RI President R. Gordon R. McInally, fourth from right, and his wife, Heather, second from right, visit a heart surgery patient at Fortis Hospital in India. Also pictured is Past RI President Rajendra Saboo, third from right and Rotary leaders from District 3080 (India).

By AP Singh, past president and chairman of the Heartline Project

It all began with the tragic death of a young man awaiting surgery for a congenital heart issue. Our Rotary Club of Chandigarh, India, and our Inner Wheel friends had been raising money for the young man. Determined that no other person in need of corrective surgery would die from lack of money, we were moved to act, and our initiative, a part of Gift of Life International, came to be. That was May 1998. We received a grant from The Rotary Foundation in 2000 and combined that with funds from District 3080 (lndia), District 2630 (Japan), our club, and the Rotary club of Ebingen, Japan.

Today, we have saved 777 lives and counting. During a ceremony for the 100th surgery in 2004, the father of a young man from Pakistan who had received a surgery said, “Pakistan gave him birth, but India gave him life.”

Realizing the impact of the project in saving the lives of children suffering from congenital heart disease who could not afford surgery, our club rechristened our efforts as the Heartline Project, signed a memorandum of understanding with Fortis Hospital, Mohali, and continued to help children. The team of surgeons handled everything from a hole in the heart, to a faulty heart valve, to other congenital heart problems.

Signature project

This became our club’s signature project, funded by Rotary members, Rotary clubs, friends of Rotary and – most importantly – grants from The Rotary Foundation. We never faced a shortage of funds because we were in the business of saving lives. The project has been running for 24 years and going strong.

We passed milestones, reaching out to children from across borders and continents. We started getting requests from neighboring countries in the Indian subcontinent. Our club responded, and the Heartline Project has helped 34 children from Pakistan, 3 from Afghanistan, 8 from Mongolia, and 18 from Nepal.

Past RI President Rajendra K. Saboo, a member of our club, received numerous requests from even further away. Always eager to help, he would accept and assemble a team of doctors for another medical mission. We have had the opportunity to help 22 children from Malawi, 7 from Uganda, 6 from Nigeria, 50 from Rwanda, and 10 from Zimbabwe. One child from Iraq was also operated on. These add to the more than 600 children belonging to very poor Indian families who have benefited from the project.

Presidential visit

Rotary International President R. Gordon R. McInally and his wife, Heather, visited Fortis Hospital on 17 January. They met with Saboo and our district governor, Arun Mongia. They also met Anu, an 8½-year-old girl from Mohali, who had undergone a successful operation a day earlier.

They also met 16-year-old Daphne from Zimbabwe, who arrived a day earlier with her mother for her corrective surgery. She had received a previous surgery in 2016 at the age of 9 but was informed then that she would need another corrective surgery at a later date. Our club assured her and her mother that this would be done. On 22 January, she received her surgery and is recovering well. The Rotary Club of Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe, provided funds for Daphne’s travel to India.

McInally also met the team of cardiac surgeons and expressed his gratitude for their service in saving children’s lives. He presented a citation to Fortis Hospital Mohali on behalf of our Rotary club. Later he visited six children who were operated upon in the last few months.

This is Rotary in action. Together we create hope for children across borders to have normal, healthy lives.