INDIANAPOLIS — Some 270 people put down their forks and drinks, sitting silent in the ballroom.
They listened to the thrum of a heartbeat, played over the speakers to remind them of why they were there.
Those people, dressed to the nines with a splash of red, bid for items from vacations to handcrafted furniture Saturday, with proceeds going toward repairing the heart defects of children across the globe. They came together for the 19th annual Gift of Life Auction, a signature event of the Greenfield Rotary Club, which has raised some $640,000 to support medical intervention for children in need since the event’s inception 20 years ago. Organizers were still tallying the totals at press time, but each year, the local Rotary club’s annual Gift of Life auction raises approximately $50,000 to put toward the cause, officials said.
The life-saving surgeries take place through the efforts of Gift of Life International, an organization that provides children born with congenital heart defects with life-saving surgeries.
Organizer Monica Price-Kowaleski said the event’s attendance was close to a record high, an exciting accomplishment for the Greenfield Rotary as it works to support the Indiana Gift of Life team.
Dr. Stephanie Kinnaman leads Indiana’s Gift of Life program, which since 1998 has sent teams of doctors to developing countries and brought children to the United States for heart surgeries not available at hospitals there.
Gift of Life International has brought some 67 children to Riley Hospital for Children for heart surgeries over the years; altogether, its Indiana team members have treated about 310 children across the globe, including in Amman, Jordan, and Uganda.
The team not only performs surgeries on children with heart defects; it also teaches healthcare professionals in developing countries how to treat the same defects themselves, officials said.
A speaker at the auction, Dr. Riad Lutfi, a native of Damascus, Syria, has traveled four times in the last 15 months to Amman, Jordan, to help conduct life-saving heart procedures. He is a pediatric intensive care specialist, providing care to the children before and after their surgeries.
He said during the event that Gift of Life is performing important work among the displaced Syrian population, not only in its efforts to provide medical care otherwise unavailable to those individuals.
He recalled the first young Syrian he took care of, a boy whose face showed the stress of struggling to live amidst the war in Syria.
After the young man’s surgery, Lutfi was surprised to see how he had transformed.
“It provided the hope of peace for his family, knowing there are people out there who care,” he said. “I don’t think I can really tell you how thankful those families are.”
In addition to financially supporting the organization’s efforts to repair children’s congenital heart defects, Greenfield Rotary members provide emotional and financial support to the children and their families while they are residing in the Ronald McDonald house near Riley Hospital for Children, said club director Kevin Horrigan.
Making those families feel at home can manifest in many ways, he said. For one young girl recovering from heart surgery, it meant a gift of a stuffed yellow Labrador, he said.
For another family, it meant finding an Indianapolis restaurant that served the cuisine of their home country.
In its 18-year history, Greenfield Rotary’s efforts to support Gift of Life have become an important mission for those club members, he said.
“We can’t save everybody,” he said. “But if we save one child, it’s better than none.”
The 2018 Gift of Life Auction may be over, but the Greenfield Rotary club is still accepting donations toward the effort to provide life-saving heart surgeries to children across the globe.
To donate, visit wedoauctions.net/giftoflife.