In 1974, the concept of the Rotary’s Gift of Life Program was born in Manhasset, New York. The club received a request for help from the Kampala Rotary Club in Uganda.
In response to the Uganda Club’s request, five-year-old Grace Agwaru embarked on a 5000-mile journey from her homeland to Rosilyn, New York. During a four-hour open-heart surgery, Grace’s heart was repaired and her life was saved. Since that time, the Gift of Life Program has blossomed into a dynamic, world-wide Rotary service movement aimed at bringing children who require life-saving corrective heart surgery to the states to secure the miracle that assures them continued life.
In 1997, Hilton Head Island plastic surgeon Robert A. Laughlin and local businessman Brian Carmines founded Hilton Head Island Rotary Club’s local Gift of Life Program. These men employed their time and talents to achieve an effective outreach for Hilton Head Island’s new program.
Hilton Head Rotary’s Gift of Life program brings children and young adults from third world countries to Hilton Head Island to receive life-changing plastic and reconstructive surgery not available to them at home.
Due to generous cooperation from the involved medical specialists, Rotarians, host families, interpreters, airlines and Hilton Head Regional Medical Center and facilities, each case has been handled free of charge to the patient and his/her family.
Neto was born with a benign tumor underneath one eyelid. While still an infant, the tumor and the eye above it were removed, along with his eyelids.
In El Salvador, Neto did not have access to the medical services required to correct his condition.
Dr. Laughlin learned about Neto’s plight from Children’s Cross Connection, an Atlanta-based relief agency. Little Neto was approved as a Gift of Life candidate and arrangements were made to bring him to Hilton Head for surgery. Neto purchased his first pair of shoes to travel to the U.S.
American Airlines provided free airfare to Neto and his mother Margarita. Dr. Laughlin and Dr. Ken Gleitsmann, a local ophthalmologist, performed more than six hours of reconstructive surgery on Neto at the Hilton Head Regional Medical Center and facilities.
Following that procedure, Dr. William Cox, an oculist from Atlanta, created a prosthetic eye for the little boy. All of the involved parties donated their services.
After six weeks of recuperation, and lots of new experiences, the impish little boy and his mother returned to Central America laden with gifts for their family from local well-wishers.
All told, medical bills would have amounted to over $20,000 were services and other expenses not provided free of charge.
August 15, 2015
Gift of Life Program Brings New Life to 17th Patient: Oscar Lopez-Fuentes, a 13-year old boy from Mexico. suffered very serious burns in a house fire that took the life of his father. No resources were available to pay for the treatment required to reconstruct his face and arms. Burn scars (60% of his body) prevent him from extending his right arm and moving his neck; facial scars affect his breathing. Rotary’s Gift of Life program gives Oscar new hope for returning to his home with improved function and appearance and with increased confidence in his future.
Since coming to the U.S. in June, Oscar has had multiple surgeries and is already seeing major improvements. Dr. Aaron Mason and Dr. David Reid, plastic surgeons, are doing the reconstructive surgery at Hilton Head Hospital. Oscar is expected to undergo additional surgeries, returning home some time in October.
Initiated by Dr. Robert Laughlin and Brian Carmines of the Rotary Club of Hilton Head Island in 1996, the Gift of Life Program now enjoys the support of all five Rotary Clubs in the Hilton Head/ Bluffton area. The program brings international children and young adults to Hilton Head for plastic and reconstructive surgery. The goal is to enable these patients to live a full and productive life, while helping to foster World Peace and understanding of other cultures.
Priority is given to patients who are unable to secure treatment in their own country and who need multiple operations to restore mobility, functionality, and the ability for self care. Travel, housing, food, surgeries, and all related medical services are provided at no cost to the family through the generosity of host families, medical specialists, Hilton Head Regional Medical Center, local businesses, and Rotary. The seventeen program recipients to date have been from Tajikistan, Iraq, the Philippines, El Salvador, and Mexico.
Oscar and Laura Rodriquez, his accompanying nurse, are staying with Bluffton host family, Silvia and Louis DeLeandro. Antonio Junco, president of the Rotary Club of Texcoco, Mexico, Oscar’s home town, visited Hilton Head this week and was pleased to see Oscar’s progress. Anyone interested in providing day trips and outings such as fishing, museums, arts events, etc. should contact: Dr. Robert Laughlin at 843-0384-9626 or his wife Linda at 843-384-5618.
July 24, 2014
Our Gift of Life child, Oscar, had his second operation yesterday. Dr. Mason operated on his facial scars and completed the first stage of the reconstruction of his back scars. Dr. Reid did some touch-up work on the previous surgery on his extremities. Oscar is doing very well and is being discharged this morning.
July 5, 2014
Just a quick update on our Rotary Club Gift of Life child from Linda and Bob Laughlin: Oscar came through surgery beautifully – work was done on his neck, right elbow and shoulder. Next surgery is in 3-4 weeks. Host families and translators are still needed. Rotarians from Oscar’s home town in Mexico are panning to visit him (and our club) in August. Thanks to all our members who have reached out – Rotarians doing good in the world!
July 3, 2014
Our Gift of Life child, Oscar, is scheduled for his first surgery at 8:00 am, July 3rd, at Hilton Head Hospital. Oscar is from Mexico and was badly burned in a fire. The main surgeon is Dr. David Reid. Our own Dr. Bob Laughlin is overseeing the whole project, with help from his committee members Bruce Pitkin and Betty Fowlkes.
For our newer Rotarians, Gift of Life is a program which began in our club several years ago. We provide surgical procedures (usually plastic surgery) to children who have a drastic need but are not able to receive treatment in their home country. Everything is provided at no charge. Please send your healing wishes to Oscar!
The Gift of Life program is always looking for host families for the child and accompanying guardian. Hosts commit to only two weeks, though many do much more. Hosts provide a room and bath, and their guests eat with them.
But hosts are not expected to provide transportation, or pay out of pocket for haircuts or any incidentals. Rotarians volunteer to take the visitors to the hospital, the beach, fireworks shows, ball games, wherever they happen to be going. “It’s not meant to be a burden for the host families,” said Pitkin, chairman of the local program.
Sometimes hosts establish long-lasting bonds with their guests.