Students seek to help Chinese children suffering from heart disease

December 3, 2008 — by Tiffany Tseng

Traveling miles away from home this summer, senior Alina Yang met children from some of the poorest families in China who were suffering from Congenital Heart Disease (CHD) and had no money for treatment. After helping these unfortunate children and learning about their many struggles in life, she immediately wanted to support this cause through a non-profit organization called Angelheart International.

Yang and her friend senior Elizabeth Lee are collaborating with seniors Joleen Tseng and Guo Zeng from the Expressions Club to set up an SAT and ACT prep book donation, giving students the opportunity to help children with CHD whose families are too poor to afford surgery.
CHD is a disorder that causes children to have an abnormality in their heart. A small hole in either their atrium or ventricle prevents their blood from flowing properly, causing them to be abnormally short and making it hard for them to walk or breathe.

Angelheart International supplies money for the treatment, surgery, drugs and doctor appointments. Many of these families make only $50 a year and the surgeries cost anywhere from $2000-$4000. With a 99 percent success rate in surgeries for CHD, the money raised is directly going to saving many lives. Many of the children can lead completely normal lives after operation.

“Without the surgery, the kids don’t survive past the age of 20,” said Lee. “It’s really sad because they basically don’t have a future and their families can’t do anything about it.”

Yang and Lee have been discussing ways to help Angelheart International since last school year. Originally, they hoped to start a new club to promote this organization, but with ASB cutting down on clubs, their request was denied. Forced to come up with a secondary plan, they are now collaborating with the Expressions Art Club for fundraising.

“Because our club got rejected, we have to work with other clubs in doing events,” said Lee. “Right now we are working with the Art Club, organizing an SAT book donation. We’re encouraging students to donate used SAT books to the library, which we will sell for [discounted] prices.”

The group plans for the book sale to be held near the beginning of December, and while half the profits will go to the Art Club, the other half will be donated to Angelheart International in hopes of making a difference.

Yang first became involved at the beginning of her junior year when she contacted the president of Angelheart and expressed her interest in being a part of the newfound organization.

“The person I contacted used to be the president of a medical device company, but quit his job and switched to volunteering,” said Yang. “I found this to be a great opportunity since I’m really interested in seeing how engineering can be used to help people in the medical world.”

Yang’s trip with the organization to Gansu, China greatly opened her views on the disease and the people affected by it. She was able to witness two open-heart surgeries and visit the countryside and the families in need of help. The most important part of her trip, though, was her realization of how passionate people are for this cause.

“It was amazing to work with such a wide variety of people who cared for the children so much. It’s very different from here, where the mindset is so small and people focus on such trivial issues,” said Yang. “I got to meet many extraordinary people, such as college students and surgeons,
who gave up time in their lives to volunteer and help these families in need.”

Yang was also influenced by the overwhelming strength from the families of people with CHD, who had so little to work for and almost nothing to look forward to.

“I got to work more with the children than the disease itself, which was great because I got to learn about all their struggles and how they still managed to be so strong,” said Yang. “[One] girl was eating a packet of ramen flavoring and it was so sad because that was the only food she had. They couldn’t walk, yet were still able to do field work. It was amazing.”

After hearing about Yang’s experience, Lee decided to become involved as well.

“It’s a good experience because I’ve never done anything before that has directly impacted other [people’s] lives,” said Lee.

Besides planning fundraisers, Lee and Yang are also involved in marketing by helping to maintain the Angelheart website and promoting the organization as a whole.

“We’re starting with something small and hopefully we’ll work into something bigger later on,” said Yang. “But, for now, we’ll just see how this first fundraiser goes.”

By participating in Yang and Lee’s fundraisers throughout the school year, such as the current SAT book donation in the office, students can be directly benefiting the lives of many poor children with CHD who are in need of surgery. For more information, visit http://angelheartintl.org.

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