INDIANAPOLIS — Carmina Algodon fidgeted slightly as she sat in the waiting room of the surgery center. She’d tried to nap but had no luck; the couch proved too uncomfortable to ease her nerves.
She sat up and looked around the brightly colored room at Riley Hospital for Children. This was a strange place to her. In an unusual city, in a foreign land.
Somewhere in the maze of hallways around her, Algodon’s 4-year-old daughter, Johanna, lay in an operating room, three hours into a surgery that would change her life – all thanks to the charitable work of the Rotary Club of Greenfield.
Algodon has known since the day Johanna was born they would end up here eventually — in a hospital somewhere far away from the little town in the Philippines her family calls home.
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The doctors on their island can’t fix Johanna’s broken heart.
But someone had to.
For the past 17 years, members of the Greenfield Rotary have arranged and paid for children in need from around the world to travel to Indianapolis and receive live-saving procedures at Riley Hospital through the service organization’s Gift of Life program. When they can, they also send a team of doctors across the globe to spend a week treating children in underserved areas, said Dr. Stephanie Kinnaman, Gift of Life adviser for central Indiana and a Greenfield resident.
Locally, Rotarians estimate their organization has flown some 15 children to Indianapolis to receive operations in addition to the 10 kids they assist each time their doctors travel abroad.
Children aided by Gift of Life programs typically suffer from heart-related ailments like Johanna’s.
Immediately after Johanna was born, doctors in the Philippines discovered she had a hole in her heart, her mother said. They knew Johanna would eventually need surgery to repair the defect, but the procedure was too complex for the hospital in their hometown to take on, Algodon said.
After Algodon spent years worrying and wondering, a relative of hers met a Greenfield Rotarian by chance during a mission trip a year ago, and they got to talking about Johanna and the surgery she would need once she reached her fourth birthday.
So the local service group took up the charge. Greenfield Rotarians collected about $50,000 — as they do during an annual fundraiser each February — to cover the cost of her surgery, travel and housing for her family.
It was a funny twist of fate, Kinnaman said, as families assisted by Gift of Life typically come to Central Indiana through referrals from doctors, coordinators from the international office in New York, or even letters directly from parents seeking help for their children.
The initiative has helped more than 18,000 children from 71 countries since the program began in New York 40 years ago, according to Gift of Life International.
Kinnaman began arranging Johanna’s surgery with the hospital several months ago, and in late December, Johanna and her mother traveled to the United States.
On Christmas Eve, they moved into a room at the Ronald McDonald House in Indianapolis and prepared for the surgery that would follow days later.
As she waited on the morning of the surgery for word from the doctors that everything had been successful, Algodon said she was grateful these strangers had stepped in to help her family.
Now, Johanna is recovering at the Ronald McDonald House under the watchful eyes of the doctors who donated their time to save her life.
And back in Greenfield, those who made the surgery possible are pulling for her recovery.
Among them is Rotarian Bob Campbell of Greenfield, who was invited into the operating room to watch as doctors repaired Johanna’s heart after donating $2,000 to the effort.
Knowing that little girl, so vulnerable there on the operating table, could go on to have a normal, healthy childhood brought him joy, he said.
The experience was awe-inspiring and one he plans to share with community members in hopes of furthering Gift of Life’s efforts across the globe.