Gift of Life Program Outlined at Westfield-Mayville Rotary Session

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(Photo Credit to Sue Hammond):
Patricia Castiglia, Ph. D. (left), Rotary District 7090 Gift of Life Program Vice President, and Mary Swanson (right), Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club Immediate Past President, are each holding a chocolate heart to show their support of Gift of Life, an international program that was begun in 1975 to provide surgeries for impoverished children who have congenital heart defects. Castiglia explained the program and the “Buy a Heart, Have a Heart” chocolate sales and awareness campaign during the Jan. 21 Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club meeting at the Lakeshore Assembly of God Church in Westfield. 

Saving children who have congenital heart defects through the Gift of Life program was the topic of a presentation by Patricia Castiglia, Ph. D., Rotary District 7090 Gift of Life Vice President, during the Jan. 21 meeting of the Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club at the Lakeshore Assembly of God Church in Westfield. Castiglia was welcomed to the session by Mary Swanson, Westfield-Mayville Rotary Club Immediate Past President.

Castiglia is a licensed RN and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. She received her BS, MS and PhD degrees from the University of Buffalo. She served as Associate Dean and Interim Dean for the School of Nursing at UB, and as Dean of Health Sciences for 12 years at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). She is Associate Professor Emeritus from UB and Professor Emeritus from UTEP. Castiglia was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing. She has served twice as President of the Rotary Club of Hamburg, and three times as Club Secretary, and as a member of many Rotary District 7090 committees.
Castiglia explained the origins and mission of the Gift of Life program, which provides life-saving open heart surgery to children from infancy to 21 years of age. These children are born with congenital heart defects and cannot afford care. She stated, “After visiting Uganda and meeting a little girl who had a congenital heart defect, a member of the Manhasset Rotary Club of Long Island asked his Rotary club in 1975 to sponsor the cost of bringing the child to the U.S. for surgery. The surgery was not available in Uganda, and without it the child would perish.”

In 1993, Rotary District 7090 adopted Gift of Life as its humanitarian program and established it as a 501(c)(3) entity. The Rotary Clubs of Western New York and Southern Ontario, as well as many other organizations and individuals, support the program. Gift of Life is an international program that has treated over 50,000 very impoverished children from 78 countries.

The average cost of sponsoring one child to have open heart surgery to correct the heart defect is US $5,000. Castiglia said, “We try to sponsor one, maybe two children per year. Since 1996, Rotary District 7090 has been able to save 58 children who otherwise would not have lived to see their teen years. Our three newest recipients of life-saving heart surgery are Akeila, age 6, and Emmanuel, age 9, who are both from Jamaica, and Camila, age 1, who is from El Salvador.”

Rotary District 7090 is fortunate to have two hospitals that provide this service to Gift of Life. They are the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Castiglia added, “Now we’re establishing pediatric surgery centers in underdeveloped nations. We have opened a center in Uganda and one in El Salvador. Also, we are planning to establish four more centers, one each in Jamaica, Romania, the Philippines and Bolivia. Sometimes we provide medical equipment. Many doctors and nurses have donated their services for the surgeries, and now we are asking them to help by providing training for medical personnel at the centers.”

To promote awareness of and raise funds for Gift of Life, a “Buy a Heart, Save a Heart” campaign was begun. Castiglia partnered with a Buffalo chocolatier who makes and packages chocolate hearts, which are available in milk and dark chocolate flavors at the cost of $10 each. Partial proceeds from the sales go to the Gift of Life program. For more information about Rotary District 7090 Gift of Life, or to provide a donation for sponsoring lifesaving open heart surgeries for children, contact Patricia Castiglia at or 716-508-8245.