Naranchimeg Sargai and her son, Tenger, stepped on a plane in Mongolia and prepared for the first flight of their lives. The initial leg of their journey would span two days and take them to the other side of the world. When they arrived at their destination in Minnesota, they would be welcomed by strangers holding signs, balloons and a promise: They would help heal Tenger's broken heart.
Like 40,000 children each year in the United States, Tenger was born with a congenital heart defect. Unlike those children, he was born in a place unable to provide the surgery he needed to survive to adulthood. Enter Samaritan's Purse Children's Heart Project, a nonprofit organization that coordinates "life-saving surgery for children with congenital heart defects from countries where appropriate treatment is extremely limited or nonexistent." The organization partners with hospitals — including Mayo Clinic — to provide this care.
"Children's Heart Project would not be able to do this job, to do the work, alone," Sheena Basemera, spokesperson and translator with Children's Heart Project, tells KIMT-3 TV. As the station notes, it takes a village. In addition to the medical team, that village includes community members in host cities who volunteer to provide lodging, transportation and support to families.
"We welcome CHP families at the airport knowing very little about each other," Dianne Orth says. Orth, a nurse at Mayo Clinic, helps coordinate host placements through her "hobby" as hospitality coordinator (and pastor's spouse) at Calvary Evangelical Free Church. "Through the hosting experience, language and cultural barriers are broken, and friendships are formed for life," she says.
That's all on display in a new documentary, OuRSTory: Community Heals a Heart, produced by Encore Public Relations. The film follows Tenger and another child, Sodnom BatOchir, during their time in Rochester, from their arrival in February through their surgeries and departure five weeks later. The film was commissioned by Rochester International Airport and highlights the experiences of Michele Nelson, a Delta Global Services employee who opens her home to Children's Heart Project families.
When families arrive, "they are scared but they are hopeful," Nelson says in the documentary. The 10-minute film captures those emotions and others, from the nervousness of an early appointment with cardiovascular surgeon Joseph Dearani, M.D., to the relief felt when Sameh Said, M.D., M.B., B.Ch., shares good news about one of the procedures.
"All of the Mayo staff exude excitement and love for these babies," Nelson says in the film. They are "providing an opportunity that the kids otherwise … there's a zero percent chance they would be able to have these surgeries."
Samaritan's Purse "has brought more than 840 children with life-threatening heart defects to North America for heart surgery not available in their home countries," the organization reports. Mayo Clinic has provided care for 91 of those children, including Tenger and Sodnom. "It seems like just one day in the operating room can make such a pivotal change in the entire course of a child and his or her family's life," Orth says. "It is a tremendous gift that the Mayo team is able to give."
You can hear more from Orth, Nelson, and Tenger and Sodnom's mothers in the documentary. (Have a tissue handy.) Then win our hearts by leaving a comment below before using the handy social media tools to share this story with others.
Tags: Cardiovascular Surgery, Children's Heart Project, Congenital Heart Defect, Dr. Joseph Dearani, Dr. Sameh Said, Mayo Clinic Children's Center, Patient Stories, Rochester International Airport, Samaritan's Purse