Changing Lives Through Children's Heart Project

October 17, 2012 • Uganda

By Chelsea Pardue, Samaritan’s Purse staff writer

Sometimes, understanding only comes with seeing.

Children’s Heart Project has held a special place in my heart since I started working with Samaritan’s Purse. I had no particular reason to be tied to it—I didn’t know anyone who had a congenital heart defect, I don’t have children, I’ve never been to any of the countries where we accept kids for surgery.

Yet when I receive emails full of faces of boys and girls who can’t breathe, can’t walk, and can’t live normal lives because of their defects, it makes me incredibly sad for these children and their families and incredibly happy that we’re able to help them.

But I never really understood. I didn’t understand the difficulty these children have in participating in daily activities. I didn’t understand that they had trouble eating, that they hold their little heads because they just won’t stop hurting, and that no matter what toys are around, they just want to lie on the couch because standing is too uncomfortable.

Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit two of these children in Florida.

Edwin and Enimi had come to the U.S. from Uganda. Their surgeries were scheduled for Oct. 2 and 4, so I planned my trip around those dates. But things almost never work out as planned. Edwin was rushed into emergency surgery almost as soon as he landed. Enimi’s surgery was pushed back a few days because of a scheduling conflict at the hospital. That put me in Florida in between the two boys’ surgeries.

By the time I arrived, Edwin was out of bed and well on the way to recovery. Other than the scar running down the front of his small body, he looked completely healthy. He giggled constantly. He spent 20 minutes showing his mom that he could run and walk on his tiptoes. He sang and smiled and ate ice cream and gave hugs when he could bear to take a break from all the new activities he was learning.

Enimi, on the other hand, seemed close to death, and from what I learned, he wasn’t nearly as sick as Edwin had been. Enimi put a lot of effort into smiling at people and saying “Beep, Beep” (like the Road Runner racing away from Wile E. Coyote) whenever people looked at him. But his eyes were tired and his eyelids were heavy. Rather than playing, he was content to curl up with a blanket and watch American cartoons.

It was hard to watch Edwin run and giggle while Enimi lay in a heap of skinny legs and arms in my lap. It was harder still to think of the more than 200 children like Enimi who are on the Children’s Heart Project waiting list. Many of them are waiting because we simply don’t have the money to bring them here.

Each day, those children wake up with headaches, leg pain, and breathing trouble. For the most part, these kids can’t even go to school because of the pain. Many of their parents are already wondering how they will afford a funeral.

I am not the fundraising type. I was the kid in school who took home the fundraising papers and never returned them because I just don’t like asking people for money. I prefer to see people give because they feel moved, not because someone has made them feel guilty. I am still not trying to make anyone feel guilty.

What I am trying to do is tell you about what I’ve seen, and now understand. I want you to realize that some of these children have gone six years, 10 years, sometimes even into their teenage years, unable to think clearly or breathe normally. I want you to know that their lives could be changed by relatively simple procedures.

I am not here to tell you that without your help, these kids will eventually die. I am here to tell you about the smiles of children who have been healed, and who can go back home and live entirely normal lives. I’m here to show you how simple it is to change someone’s life.