Volunteer Warms Hearts Across Globe

HeartGift board member and volunteer transporter Grace Cook cuddles with heart patient Chintushig and his parents at the airport. (Courtesy Photo)
HeartGift board member and volunteer transporter Grace Cook cuddles with heart patient Chintushig and his parents at the airport. (Courtesy Photo)

For some people, the love of philanthropy runs in the family.

That happens to be the case for Grace Cook, whose grandmother, Margaret McDermott, is a well-known Highland Park civic leader in many sectors.

But Cook is making her own marks through one organization: HeartGift.

The group works to make sure that children in developing countries with congenital heart defects can get surgeries to save their lives.

Cook, who serves as a board member for the organization, was able to travel to Ulan Bator, Mongolia, with the family of one such child in November.

“I had such an overwhelming emotion when I got there and got to see the family being reunited,” the Hockaday graduate said. “I started crying, which is absurd.”

Cook acted as a transporter, meaning that she accompanied the family on their trip back home to make sure everything ran smoothly with passports and other necessary documentation.

A translator usually makes the trip as well.

But clearly, the support she was able to provide was not just technical.

“The grandfather of the kid came up to me and barely speaks any English, and he said, ‘thanks, thanks, thanks, thanks,” she said.

Cook even spent time with the family during their stay in Dallas, taking the child to her grandmother’s home.

It’s experiences like this that get to, well, the heart of HeartGift.

Thanks to partnerships with Samaritan’s Purse and Children’s Health Dallas, the organization was able to help 10 children in 2013.

Their contract with Children’s usually allows about 12 children to come over each year.

“We take defects that are fixable in one surgery,” HeartGift Dallas executive director Barbara Johnson said. “They come here, stay for six to eight weeks, recover at a host family’s home, and leave completely good as new.”

Headquartered in Austin, the organization also has chapters in Houston, San Antonio, and New Orleans.

They are hoping to expand even more, depending on securing contracts with children’s hospitals across the country.

“We’re lucky to have Children’s Medical Center and UT Southwestern Medical Center be willing to work with us and do this,” Johnson said.

Children have come to HeartGift from Mexico, Honduras, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Burkina Faso, to name a few.

Referrals mainly come from Samaritan’s Purse, but some have come from other international organizations, such as Doctors Without Borders.

The cost-saving alone that the organization secures is remarkable.

A surgery that would normally cost $150,000 is done for about $25,000 (without cost to the family in question).

“It’s a very small amount to save a child’s life,” Johnson said. “If they didn’t do this, they would die.”

And for volunteers like Cook, that’s motivation to stay involved for a long time.

“I wanted to find my niche,” she said. “I plan on being in philanthropy for the rest of my life.”

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