Conroy Wellington is 13 months old and came close to dying of a heart ailment.
Living in Jamaica, Conroy got lucky when the Rotary Club 7490 of North Jersey heard about his case and brought him to stay in Bayonne in the fall, where he lived in preparation for lifesaving surgery.
Jude Tiner, who led an effort to save a Filipino girl two years ago, said the Rotary Club had raised enough money to help defray some of the expenses for Conroy’s surgery.
This is part of the Rotary’s Gift of Life program, which has saved the lives of more than 650 kids since the inception of the program in 1986.
“The Bayonne Rotary was very helpful. In particular, member Janice Hall, who helped calm the mother down.” – Jude Tiner
Conroy went through successful surgery in late October at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital in
Lake Vahala, N.Y., to repair a hole in his heart.
“The kid looked good right away,” Tiner said. “He had great color after the surgery.”
Tiner said Conroy’s mother had heard about the Gift of Life program while still in Jamaica from her family doctor.
“The Bayonne Rotary was very helpful,” Tiner said. “In particular, member Janice Hall, who helped calm the mother down.”
Recently president of the Bayonne Rotary, Hall knew Jamaica fairly well. During her tenure as president, she cooperated with the Rotary there to help repair a local school in Jamaica.
Since the 1980s, the Rotary Club’s Gift of Life Program is a program that has helped children with advanced congenital heart disease from around the world, including China, Russia, Iraq, and the Philippines.
By raising money and seeking donated services, the Rotary Gift of Life program helped to provide life saving medical treatment for kids suffering from heart disease and similar ailments regardless of race, creed, gender or national origin.
The Rotary Club has about 47 clubs in New Jersey, including Hudson and Bergen counties. According to Hal Kawalek, a member of the board for the Gift of Life program, the club has saved about 650 kids since its inception.
For Tiner, who has become a key local player in helping these kids, the program has become something personal, saving the lives of people he has come to know and love. Two years ago, Tiner was instrumental in bringing a girl from the Philippines to New Jersey for treatment after he had encountered her during a church-sponsored trip there.
A veteran from the Vietnam War, Tiner said he recalled kids he couldn’t help when he was overseas in the conflict. Now, years later, he is able to open his home and his heart to their needs.
“This is about helping kids,” he said. “And that is something pretty great.”
According to Kawalek, 100 percent of donations go to the children and their families.
“Neither Rotary nor the Gift of Life deducts any administrative costs from the money we collect,” he said. “As volunteers, involved Rotarians and other generous individuals make up any additional expenses – everything from family meals to car fare to toys for the children – out of their own pockets.”
But he said many children still desperately need lifesaving surgery.
“A few years ago, my wife and I hosted a mother and child from the Ukraine, the second of four families we have hosted to date,” he said during an interview done earlier this year.
In that case, a child's life was also saved as a result of the needed surgery supplied by the Gift of Life program.
Last year, the local Rotary district sent a team of doctors, nurses, support staff and equipment to Honduras, where they assisted a volunteer surgeon to perform about 40 surgeries.
“While sending our doctors abroad does help to defray the cost of these procedures even further, such an undertaking is still quite costly,” he said. “The Gift of Life relies on the generosity of all those who contribute in order to make such programs possible.”
People can still donate to help other children through Rotary District 7490.