A parent will do anything to ensure the health of her child. This was no different for Norma, whose son was diagnosed at nine months with a congenital heart defect. Twice a year she would leave her home, nestled in a remote region of Nicaragua, and travel 24 hours by bus with Laudner to seek the medical care that he so desperately needed.
Norma continued on this path for more than a decade, but she could not secure the kind of help her son required. Until this year, that is, when officials at HeartGift heard Laudner’s tale and brought the now 14-year-old boy to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans. Laudner underwent open-heart surgery in March to free him from the defect, known as Tetralogy of Fallot, that had caused him to suffer for his entire life.
The surgeons fixed an opening between the lower two pumping chambers of Laudner’s heart and cleared an obstruction blocking blood flow into his lungs. These ailments required Launder to use a wheelchair, as his body could not receive enough oxygen. But when he left New Orleans, it was on his own two feet.
HeartGift, with service locations across Texas and Louisiana, provides life-saving heart surgery to children from around the world where specialized medical treatment is scarce. To date, the organization has helped more than 300 children from 34 different countries. From travel and housing arrangements to translator services and entertainment, HeartGift employees and volunteers see to every detail.
All participating medical professionals donate 100 percent of their fees and services, which in 2016 totaled $8 million in contributions. Stephanie Berault, executive director of HeartGift Louisiana, knows that financial limitations often are the only obstacle between a sick child and a clean bill of health.
“In 93 percent of the world, these are common defects kids are born with, and they just don’t have the expenses for care,” Berault says. “HeartGift cases heading to New Orleans average around $25,000. We raise that mainly through corporate sponsorships and a charity golf tournament, and we partner our kids with different schools.”
When he and his mother first arrived in New Orleans, Laudner knew he soon would be having surgery on his heart. What he did not know, however, was that he had a whole school cheering him on. After being contacted by HeartGift, students at St. Catherine of Siena School in Metairie made cards and decorations for his hospital room, while parents and faculty brought donations to help with costs.
Laudner’s operation marked the 40th surgery that HeartGift Louisiana has completed, and as Berault witnessed, the 40th life saved. “Within another week he won’t be on any medications at all. No restrictions,” Berault says. “The cardiologist looked Norma in the face and said, ‘I expect he will have a full, normal and healthy life.’ ”
For more information, visit heartgift.org. Will Potts in an intern at Nola Family Magazine.