Gift of Life International raises over $114K at 3rd annual telethon

Gift of Life International raises over $114K at 3rd annual telethon
A screenshot from the Gift of Life telethon. The group raised over $114K during the broadcast. (Screenshot courtesy of Gift of Life)

Gift of Life International celebrated Giving Tuesday by hosting its third annual Global Hearts Telethon on Facebook Live, raising more than $114,000.

The group was founded in 1975, when the Rotary Clubs of Manhasset and Kampala joined forces to bring a 5-year-old Ugandan girl, Grace Agwaru, to Roslyn’s St. Francis Hospital for a life-saving operation.

Forty-seven years later, Gift of Life has treated nearly 44,000 children in 80 countries. They also provide equipment and training so that local doctors can do procedures for children in their country of birth.

“We don’t do this alone,” Rob Raylman, Gift of Life’s chief executive officer, said. “We have put together a global network that is able to deliver care to children that otherwise would never receive it.”

The group sought to raise $150,000 during the broadcast. While they came up short, they are continuing to take donations.

The telethon was broadcasted live from El Salvador. It featured stories from Gift of Life beneficiaries and included reports from Bolivia, Uganda, Romania, Korea and the Philippines.

“We should all feel proud that, as our founder, Robbie Donno talks about all the time, our fingerprints are on the hearts of these children,” said Raylman. “And they will forever remember that there were people who loved them and cared for them.”

Robbie Donno, Gift of Life’s president and founder, said he’s been fortunate to be surrounded by good work and good people.

“We’re at 44,000 children [treated] now,” he said. “In the next year and a half, we’ll be at 50,000. In the next three years, we look forward to 50 years of doing this. We’d like you all to be a part of it with us and feel good about the journey that we’ve taken.”

Every 30 seconds, a baby is born with a potentially fatal but treatable congenital heart defect — about 1.3 million children each year. Yet, 93% are born in a country that cannot provide them with treatment.

In comparison, Raylman told Blank Slate Media in July that 40,000 infants are born in the United States alone with a cardiac abnormality yearly. He said if detected, an American newborn will undergo treatment within the first six months of their life.

“We speak about this all the time, how the impact of our work is beautiful in helping the children that are in front of us,” he said. “But also it’s beautiful, the fact we give hope to those that have yet to be helped, but they know that it’s possible.”

Polina Shchepaniak, 9, who made national headlines over the summer, was one of those interviewed during the broadcast. She and her family could travel to Long Island from Lviv, Ukraine for her to have a congenital condition corrected because of Gift of Life. Her surgery had been delayed because of her country’s ongoing war.

“I want to thank you for [Gift of Life and the Rotary Club],” said Kateryna, Polina’s mother. “Because we don’t even imagine that we will be in America for three months and we will spend all that time with the beautiful people with whom are we chatting, we are talking, we are friends.”

Polina said she is feeling well. When asked what she’s doing now that her heart is healed, she said she’s running, jumping and dancing.

If one’s interested in donating, they can do so at


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