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Billy Graham’s charity commits to tackling heart diseases in Uganda

Children’s Heart Project arranges surgery for Ugandan children with congenital heart defects.

By Male Marvin

Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization founded by late evangelist Billy Graham, is currently helping needly families in Uganda receive life-saving operations through its Children’s Heart Project.

The project has been ongoing in Uganda since 2003, spearheaded by Franklin Graham, the elder son of Billy and Ruth Bell Graham.

According to a statement, the organisation identifies children with life-threatening heart disease, and matches them with North American hospitals and surgeons that donate their time and services.

Children’s Heart Project provides airfare for the child, a parent, and a translator, and arranges churches and host families in the United States to offer loving care while the child recovers in their partner hospitals after surgery.

Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Photo courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse.

In a recent report, Samaritan’s Purse cited three-year-old Alice Nakolo from Eastern Uganda who received surgery through its Children’s Heart Project. Her family believed in witchcraft and often visited witch doctors to seek health, healing, and luck, as many people in her village didn’t know about the one true God.

Alice’s father only identified as Nyende (extreme right) did nothing for her, leaving the rest of the family to figure out what was wrong with her on their own. Alice’s mother Rebecca was directed by friends to witch doctors and herbalists for medicine, but it didn’t help.

Eventually she was referred to the main referral hospital in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Alice and her mother had never been exposed to the city, so traveling to Kampala was a bit overwhelming. Throughout the long, tiring journey, Rebecca couldn’t help imagining that Alice would die. At the hospital, Alice was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. With her meager resources, Rebecca didn’t think she could do anything else for her daughter.

“I traveled in the cold night by bus, slept on the hospital floor when I had a doctor’s appointment the following day or when Alice fell sick,” she told Samaritan’s Purse. “There is nowhere I have not gone or nothing in my power I had not done for my daughter to get well. But it all did not work out.”

Then the hospital introduced Rebecca to Samaritan’s Purse. When she met the staff members who work on the Children’s Heart Project, her face sagged with worry, weariness, and sadness. She didn’t know what to expect, but the team stood with her in prayer and supported her. Through our Children’s Heart Project, Alice was put on a waiting list and then accepted to receive surgery in North America.

Deo, a Ugandan child also received heart surgery with support from Samaritan’s Purse Children’s Heart Project in July 2021. COURTESY PHOTO.

Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) account for 10% of all deaths in Uganda, making it the most common noncommunicable cause of death, according to sources.

Media reports show that people in Uganda with financial capacity usually fly overseas, mostly to India, to treat heart complications while 478 out of a possible 1,000 such patients who are lucky receive surgery at UHI, according to official statistics.

A little more than a month after Alice’s surgery abroad, her family welcomed her home. Samaritan’s Purse reports that Rebecca is doing a good job of taking care of her children.

After Alice returned home healed, her father also returned to their home.

“I did not feel at peace when I left my family,” he was quoted as saying. “I had to go back and ask my wife to forgive me. I felt like I did not deserve to be forgiven, but I was surprised that Rebecca welcomed me home and forgave me. Now, I am a changed man. I don’t drink alcohol anymore, and I thank God for changing me.”

Rebecca said that she forgave Nyende because she knew that God would do the same. Since he has moved home, they are now expecting another child.

Samaritan’s Purse has continued to visit Alice’s village post-surgery. 19 people have come to Christ as a result. These residents now have Bibles to pursue spiritual growth.

“Seeing [Alice] before and after surgery is like comparing two very different people,” Alice’s grandmother told Samaritan’s Purse.

“Indeed God does exist, and He is a God of wonders. As a family, we can now have other plans without getting worried about losing her. We have been set free indeed,” she added.

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