When Kim Edwards is asked about Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), she finds it hard to stop talking.
For the past six years, the 25-yearold has spent part of her summers volunteering with the Israeli organization, living in the SACH house and helping look after the children. Since 1995, SACH doctors have performed heart surgery on more than 2,400 children all over the world.
Edwards found out about SACH while attending Queen’s University for her undergraduate degree. She was involved in the Hillel chapter there, and one of their fundraisers was for the organization.
Going to Israel and volunteering with SACH for the first time was an amazing experience, she said.
“I fell in love with the charity and the people who work there and the children who come.”
Edwards, who is currently studying to get her PhD in clinical psychology, is very passionate about helping children, evidenced by the way she talks about the ones she’s met through SACH, including Salama, who was three years old when she came to Israel from Zanzibar.
“Salama had come over without her parents… she was really ill so she was taken to the hospital right away. I met her just after her surgery,” Edwards said.
“I really developed a motherly instinct that summer, because when I left I felt like I was leaving a child of mine behind. The bond that we had was so amazing. When she cried at the hospital and I was at the house, the nurses would call and ask me to speak to her.”
Another child, a one-year-old boy, came from Romania with his 17-year-old mother. Before his heart surgery, he had spent his entire life in a hospital in Romania because he was so sick.
“The mother’s from such a poor town – there was no running water, no nothing, and [he] would have died if he stayed in that town,” Edwards said. “There were some volunteers in the hospital who had seen a bunch of other children die from heart-related complications, and they decided they didn’t want the same thing to happen to this little boy. So they got on the Internet to search for options, and they found Save a Child’s Heart.
“He took his first step in Israel,” she added. “Before he’d been crawling around, and after his surgery, his little body was able to support his weight.”
Then there was Happiness, who was three years old when she came from Tanzania.
“She’s just so cute,” Edwards said of Happiness. “We used to sing ‘if you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands’ when she was being fussy. She just loved it and she would start clapping her hands.”
Edwards formed close bonds with many of the parents who came with their children to Israel, including one mother from Ghana.
“I came back to [the University of] Western [Ontario this past] September, and one afternoon I was really stressed out and working on a big paper. Then I got a phone call… and it was this mother from Ghana,” Edwards said.
“She had walked to another village and bought a phone card, and called me just to tell me that her baby was doing well and how much she missed me. It was so amazing to get that kind of call because it puts life in perspective.”
Seeing how surgery has saved so many young lives puts the availability of first-class medical care in Canada into perspective for Edwards.
“After the surgery, they’re like a whole different child and the future is so bright for them. To know that a six- or eight-hour surgery can add 40 or 50 years onto someone’s life is really amazing.”
Edwards remembers watching a Palestinian child undergoing heart surgery.
“It was amazing to see this child’s heartbeat on a monitor beforehand and have the doctors explain to me how the blood flow looked different after. This operation completely changed this child’s heart,” she said.
“[Afterward] the boy’s father came over to me and said ‘thank you’ in broken English, I thought he had mistaken me for a doctor… and tried to explain that I’m not the person he should be thanking. Eventually I realized how much it meant to him when he saw me [in the operating room] and recognized me from playing with his child.
“Going to Save a Child’s Heart for me is like a break from reality. You enter a different world where it doesn’t matter what you look like or what you’re wearing – it just matters that you are able to use hand gestures and smile and give a hug and be silly,” Edwards continued.
“Someone once told me if the world was more like the SACH house, then the world would be a better place, and I think it’s true.”
In addition to performing heart surgeries, SACH also trains doctors from other countries.
“At SACH this summer, I learned that Israel has around a population of seven million and there are 65 pediatric cardiologists for Israel,” Edwards said. “Ethiopia has around a population of 70 million and they have three pediatric cardiologists.
“Everyone deserves a chance,” she added. “I was chatting with [a woman from Gaza] a few years ago, and her daughter was extremely sick. She took her daughter to a hospital in Gaza, and they basically told her to let her daughter die and have another child.
“She refused to give up. She found her way to… Israel, and the doctors agreed to operate.”
For more information on SACH, visit www. saveachildsheart.org.