October 31, 2019. Our program featured an appearance by Robbie Donno, a Rotarian from the Manhasset Club and Past Governor of District 7255. It was 1975 when Robbie read an article in the Rotarian magazine about a nurse in Uganda who needed facial surgery after being mauled by a hyena. The nurse received treatment elsewhere before Robbie could respond but, along the way, he met a 5 year-old girl who needed heart surgery. He arranged to have her transported to New York for the life-saving operation.
That was the first of what has become over 35,000 heart surgeries provided by the Gift Of Life International organization founded by Robbie. That girl's name is Grace Agwaro and, 44 years after her surgery, she joined Easton Rotary for an electronic visit and told us her story. She was only 5 years old, so much of the story is what she heard from her parents; a story her father tells to this day. Imagine a total stranger offering such a gift to your daughter. Imagine such a long plane ride, sitting next to your child who may not survive to take the flight home. Imagine the feelings as doctors from another part of the world assure you that all would be well. Imagine the love you and your daughter receive from the host families in this far-off land. Over 35,000 families do not have to use their imagination.
These unique stories all revolve around the single idea that somewhere in this world, there were people who extended help, hope, and love when there was no other relief in sight and those people were: Rotarians. Robbie's organization is stronger than ever and they hope to provide 3,500 operations this year. They are currently working on a Rotary grant to provide surgery for 47 children in Lebanon. 93% of children born with a congenital heart defect are born in a country where there is no hope for treatment. Gift of Life International now operates in 80 countries across five continents. Their initiatives are supported by 286 Rotary Clubs and 63 Rotary Districts.