Giving Beyond Borders

HeartGift Louisiana offers businesses the chance to help save the lives of children from around the world.
jeffery johnston
Stephanie Berault, executive director of HeartGift Louisiana

Pale blue skin, rapid breathing, swelling in the hands and extreme shortness of breath are a few of the frightening symptoms a child with a congenital heart defect (CHD) might have.

Infants with critical CHDs generally need surgery or other procedures in their first year of life. In the United States, pediatric heart care is generally provided through the Medicaid system and children receive the care they need regardless of their ability to pay.

However, far too many children in developing nations are never diagnosed, never undergo lifesaving surgery, and will not survive to see their first birthday.

That’s where HeartGift comes in to help. The nonprofit organization brings children from around the world to America for free surgery to correct life-threatening congenital heart defects. Established in 2000, HeartGift began its work in Austin and now has three additional chapters in Texas, and one in Louisana.

“Sometimes it takes them so long to find us that we’ve got kids coming here with a defect at 6 or 7 years old that we would have caught within their first year of life in the U.S.,” said Stephanie Berault, executive director of HeartGift Louisiana. “Our kids arrive with a life-threatening heart defect and leave a few short weeks later healthy and ready to live a normal life.”

A 14-year-old boy named Laudner recently became the chapter’s 40th success story after receiving his successful HeartGift on March 14, 2017, at Children’s Hospital. The Nicaraguan teen is the youngest of five siblings and was diagnosed with a form of congenital heart disease that causes extreme fatigue during normal activities.

The ability of HeartGift to provide these life-changing and life-saving procedures is a direct result of contributions, including from ED&F Man Liquid Products, a global commodity trading and processing company. Over the past five years, the company has sponsored 16 children’s visits to Louisiana at a cost of approximately $400,000. ED&F Man, along with Nicaraguan company Monte Rosa S.A., a part of the Pantaleon Group, helped sponsor Laudner’s surgery and stay in New Orleans.

“I have traveled to many of these developing countries and it makes one realize how fortunate we are to live in the United States,” said Whit Huguley, ED&F managing director. “To be able to truly make a difference in someone’s life is very rewarding. Laudner is a perfect example. When he arrived he needed a wheelchair and oxygen to get off the plane. He would have probably only lived a short time longer without the surgery. Today he is home. He’s fully healthy and ready to play soccer rather than just watch it.”

The average medical cost to repair a congenital heart defect runs about $200,000 per case. At the core of HeartGift’s capabilities are the medical teams — surgeons, cardiologists, pediatricians, dentists, anesthesiologists and nurses — who perform the critical lifesaving work and who donate 100 percent of their professional fees and services, resulting in millions of dollars of in-kind contributions annually.

“In addition to medical care, HeartGift coordinates travel and recruits volunteers to provide housing, transportation and meals,” said Berault. “The total cost to HeartGift for this per child is $25,000.”

The group is financed through corporate sponsorships, grants, individual donations and its annual golf tournament (this year held on October 2). Volunteers are always in need to provide such things as entertainment and blood donations. Just one child typically requires 12 units of blood during surgery.

“We try to offer a wide variety of experiences for the family and child while they are here, such as taking the family to the zoo, the lakefront or just to see the sights,” said Berault. “A company could also host a going-away party or decorate the child’s hospital room. All these things make such a big difference.”

Blanca Solórzano and her husband were the host family for Laudner and his mother. After reading about the organization in the newspaper, Solórzano became a volunteer several years ago. This was the first time she hosted a family and she said she truly enjoyed the experience. Even her daughter, who no longer lives at home, volunteered to help.

“My daughter helped by taking them to the Children’s Museum and the zoo,” she said. “She even got Pan American, who she works for, involved. People at Pan American bought clothing for the family. When they came here all they had was one backpack with all their clothes to last six weeks. They are very, very poor — unbelievable.”

Berault said HeartGift Louisiana is thankful for the many companies such as ED&F Man who support them on a regular basis, and is always looking for more that would like to help them achieve their mission.

ED&F’s Huguley said that partnering with HeartGift was not only the right thing to do, it also had benefits for the company.

“It has been good ‘team building’ for our employees,” he said. “Also, we do business in many of these developing countries where the children come from and it is nice to give back to the communities where we do business.”

Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, Laudner’s family will never forget the gift he received in New Orleans. The teen’s older sister recently gave birth to a baby boy whom she chose to name after the man who saved her brother’s life, New Orleans physician Dr. Joseph Caspi.

LEFT Three-year-old Elisabeth traveled from Haiti to New Orleans in 2012 for her heart procedure through HeartGift Louisiana. RIGHT Dr. Christian Lilje, a pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, is one of the local physicians who donates their time and skills to HeartGift Louisiana.




HeartGift’s mission is to provide lifesaving heart surgery to children from around the world where specialized medical treatment is either scarce or nonexistent.

The organization’s vision is to create a world where children born with congenital heart defects have access to the surgical repair they need regardless of where they live.


HeartGift Louisiana
5500 Prytania St. #306
New Orleans, LA 70115
(504) 676-4323
(504) 522-5933

ANNUAL BUDGET 2016-2017 $190,000

Children’s Hospital
ED&F Man
Bryan Subaru
BayTech Industries
New Orleans Advocate
Sunrise Exploration
Med Surg Specialists LLC

Sponsor a child
Host a family
Back-up a host family
Provide transportation to and from appointments
Provide clothing/toys
Provide meals
Hospital visitations
Airport welcome
Host farewell gatherings for children and their family
Help with entertainment while in town
Provide tickets to an activity for the patient and their host family


HeartGift has provided lifesaving surgeries to approximately 300 children from underserved countries like El Salvador, Nicaragua, Kenya and Haiti through its five chapters since opening in 2000. Since 2010, children from 16 different countries have been saved by HeartGift Louisiana.

Though doctors at Children’s Hospital donate their time, the total cost for surgery, travel and other expenses is about $25,000 per child.


Major Fundraising Event:

HeartGift’s signature event is its golf tournament, which will be held this year on Monday, October 2, 2017. The seventh HeartGift Heroes Golf Tournament, presented by Bryan Subaru, will take place at English Turn in New Orleans from 12 p.m to 7 p.m. 

Sponsors and players are still needed. The day begins with registration and lunch, and then teams of four will tee off in a scramble format. The afternoon ends with a cocktail party for players and their guests.

HeartGift is a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization and all donations are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.



Fourteen-month-old Edona made it to Louisiana just in time. She had a congenital heart defect that was causing damage to her lungs. If she had arrived even a month later it may have been too late. Doctors at Children’s Hospital were able to repair her heart before the damage was too extensive and now she is home in the mountains of Kosovo helping her mother take care of her baby brother.  

Three-year-old Elisabeth arrived on a plane in 2012 too weak, shy and afraid to even look at the people with HeartGift. Following her successful heart surgery at Children’s Hospital, however, she seemed to blossom before everyone’s eyes. Elisabeth soon began to laugh, sing and dance. She continues to warm the hearts of all around her, and today in her home country of Haiti this beautiful young lady continues to sing.

Five-year old Solomon came to New Orleans in February 2016 with a hole in his heart that the doctors in his home country of Uganda could not repair. He was limited in physical activity and his parents were desperate for help. Fortunately, doctors at Children’s Hospital successfully repaired Solomon’s heart through HeartGift, and now nothing is holding him back.

Born in rural China with a hole in his heart and no access to health care, 13-month-old Yuanchang would only have lived a few years if HeartGift Louisiana hadn’t brought him to New Orleans. 



Want a meaningful team-building challenge

Would be willing to host a family during their stay in New Orleans

Have something to offer such as dining, clothing or entertainment

Love to play golf

Can donate funds

LEFT 14-month-old Edona had a congenital heart defect repaired just in time. Bottom 14-year-old Laudner, HeartGift Louisiana’s 40th success story

Categories: Activism, Healthcare, The Magazine