When 29-year old Robbie Donno came to his weekly Rotary meeting in the summer of 1975, he had a modest idea in mind to help save the life of a single child in Uganda. At that time, Robbie could not have envisioned that his plan would evolve into a worldwide movement ultimately responsible for saving the lives of thousands of children around the world.
That year, with the help of his fellow Manhasset Rotarians, Robbie came up with a plan to bring a child from Uganda to the United States so that she could receive life saving open heart surgery. Over the past 33 years this single act of kindness has not only saved the life of that little girl, but it has also led to life-saving surgeries for more than 10,000 children from 64 countries.
This journey came full circle in the fall of 2008 when Grace Agwaru, the first Gift of Life recipient, retraced the path she traveled 33 years ago from Uganda to New York with Jonathan, the 10,000th recipient. On October 2nd Grace and Jonathan arrived at JFK Airport. Six days later Jonathan underwent successful open heart surgery at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York. Following the surgery, Gift of Life International proceeded to celebrate this milestone throughout its network of 50 programs worldwide. Jonathan and Grace visited 26 Rotary Clubs, 10 Gift of Life programs, 7 New York schools and the United Nations on two separate occasions. In each of these visits the joy of this milestone was shared by Rotarians, healthcare professionals, elected officials, and the hundreds of volunteers that have made the dream of Gift of Life a reality.
On October 22nd the National Ethical Coalition of Organizations (NECO) punctuated the month and a half of celebration by sponsoring a reception at the United Nations which honored Gift of Life and its accomplishments. UN Ambassadors, Ellis Island Medal Award winners, former New York Governor George E. Pataki and Gift of Life supporters and recipients heard from NECO Chairman Nasser Kazeminy and Gift of Life’s first child, Grace Agwaru. Mr. Kazeminy expressed NECO’s pride in being a part of the Gift of Life family and Grace expressed the gratitude of all the children who have been given their second chance at life because of organizations such as NECO, generous donors and compassionate healthcare professionals.
Gift of Life programs from Los Angeles (CA) to Boston (MA) held events which celebrated the accomplishments of their own programs and the role they played in reaching the 10,000th child milestone.
On November 8th Grace Agwaru spoke at the United Nations/Rotary International Day. The experience was the culmination of Grace’s personal journey from being the first recipient to now being the face of the organization that saved her life. In her presentation, Grace discussed her important current obligations as an Agricultural Economist for the Ugandan Government. She then pointed out that none of the work she does to help her fellow Ugandans would be possible, were it not for the compassion and concern shown by mere strangers three decades ago.