Receiving a new heart from Gift of Life
Watch a trailer to the documentary
The seven-year-old star of an award-winning Indian film earned his role not because of a screen test, but a medical test.
Rishikanta, who had two holes in his heart, underwent open-heart surgery, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Imphal, in 2009. Last year, his story, titled Heart to Heart, won for Best Science and Technology Film in the National Film Awards, India’s equivalent to the Academy Awards.
“Miracles do happen,” says executive producer Radhesyam Oinam, a member of the Imphal club. At a September ceremony, India’s president, Pratibha Devisingh Patil, presented him with the honor.
The genesis of Heart to Heart was Imphal Rotarians’ decision to document one of their projects: providing treatment to children with congenital heart defects whose families couldn’t afford corrective surgery. More than 180,000 babies are born with such defects annually in India, and one-third require treatment within their first year. Members of the Imphal club, located in the far northeastern state of Manipur, raised funds to send children to New Delhi, 1,500 miles away, for surgery. “Pediatric heart care is costly and rare in Manipur,” Oinam says. Open-heart surgery costs about US$5,000 – an impossible sum for a family like Rishikanta’s, who survive on $25 a month.
In September 2009, the first three children underwent operations through the project, and as of August 2011, the club had sponsored 47 recipients. Last year, Gift of Life in Delhi, part of an international organization founded by Rotarians to provide free medical services to children with heart conditions, began sponsoring youth from Manipur. Participating hospitals provide the surgeries at half the usual cost.
The 37-minute film is helping the club spread the word about congenital heart defects. “We had no intention of winning awards or anything of the sort,” Oinam says. “We wanted people to know what we were doing.”
Vicky Wallace, of the Rotary Club of Lake Elsinore, California, USA, saw a screening in 2009 while she was in Imphal for a district conference. “When the movie was over, several people came forward and committed funds to help with more surgeries,” she recalls. “I was never more proud to be a Rotarian.”
The film, which was released in 2010, also has increased awareness of Rotary in India. “In Manipur, we are known as ‘the heart people,’” says Pramod Kumar Chhabra, president of the Imphal club. “It has improved our image in our state.”
The club’s relationship with Rishikanta did not end with his surgery. Before the procedure, his illness kept him from attending school, but today, the Imphal Rotarians are sponsoring his education. Chhabra reports that the young student is earning good grades.
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