Sunday, August 28, 2011


From my vantage point, each day I’m given the opportunity to participate in the story of various people’s lives. Sometimes it’s in big ways, sometimes it’s in “small” ways, but the opportunities are there for those that have eyes to see. And often what seems small is actually big in retrospect. Often your participation doubles back as a gift to you. Often you are adopted into an entirely new family just by joining someone else’s story. That’s what happened with Kalila.

Taren, now a friend (family member) of mine, was doing work in Africa and she met Kalila Mahama a quiet and beautiful Ghanaian toddler. Well, American doctors were doing work in Ghana when they diagnosed Kalila with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a congenital heart defect involving 3 or 4 abnormalities in the heart. The doctors said that Kalila had at most weeks to live.

Now, Kalila’s story has a beautiful ending, but I will tell you that I was not most amazed by the people who helped and participated. I was amazed by Taren who decided that such a verdict on the life of Kalila is not acceptable. This type of clarity and love is where I’m most grateful to find beauty. Taren decided that the physical or congenital verdict or ruling given was unjust and she was going to help bend the arrow of the law towards the justice it ideally tries to reach, a justice based in love. I’m always amazed when I find such faith in the world. You see, for Kalila to have the life-saving open-heart surgery she needed, she had to be flown to a place like the United States. Taren moved quickly.

Taren got on her blog and posted the story asking for help and donations. Taren emailed friends in the States and the email went around and around. This is how I first heard of it, through a common friend. When I receive emails like this, though I receive many, they are no-brainers. You help out, you participate, you give, you join in the creation and the saving of life anytime you have the opportunity. It’s the nature of love. It’s the most important thing. So I helped, and we had to raise money not just for the surgery but for travel expenses for Kalila and her parents from Ghana for the duration of the trip. I told Taren I can help more. Soon Rotary joined in helping. Taren raised the money.

Kalila was flown to Indiana, had the surgery, survived, and is thriving. The joy and tears over the whole super-quick process can never be understated. I met with her parents and talked with them and there were no words. Gratitude is written into the lines of their face. . . . indelibly. I don’t want to write too much about it because I do no justice to the lived experience. I wanted you to hear Taren talk about it after they had flown back to Ghana. I include even financial housekeeping at the end of the story because it tells the continuing legacy of everyone who entered into the story.

Dear friends,

Two weeks ago, Mom and I headed to the Indianapolis airport in our van stuffed to the gills with Kalila, her parents, and luggage packed with presents from many of you. Already emotional, we soon found a reason for tears: Faiza, Kalila's mother, told us that, on legs strengthened by regular oxygen flow thanks to the surgery, she had taken her first unaided steps the night before--her very last night in America. Leave it to Kalila to provide us with such a fitting ending to this incredible journey!

It was an eventful last few weeks for Kalila, her family and all of us. Kalila passed her final medical checkup with flying colors; many of you got to meet Kalila and her parents at receptions for donors in both Greencastle and DC (here are some pics from Greencastle, should have DC ones up soon); and the family landed safely back in Ghana. Along with reports of Kalila's continued progress with
walking, her grandfather wrote to us last week to say:

This is time to celebrate and to thank you for this wonderful event; saving the life of Kalila. I do not know where and how to start the Thanksgiving. Americans have a day for Thanksgiving, and Taren gave me a story about it. Our Thanksgiving has a different twist and angle, the bottom line is that you saved a life.... I would like you to thank all your friends, relations and colleagues, who in various ways assisted in this whole process; the numerous generous contributors, your Rotary friends, the doctors and nurses, the newspaper editors, and all, too many to mention. You have to carry our thanks to them on behalf of my family, Samad, Faiza and Kalila.... Our Thanksgiving day is the day of the successful surgery.

To his thanks, as always, Mom and I add ours. We have wonderful friends!


Now, some housecleaning:
In total, we received $27,433 in donations to the Kalila Mahama Heart Fund from 202 individuals, couples and/or families in the USA. Because Rotary accepted Kalila into its Gift of Life program, we were able to limit our total expenses for saving her life to $11,025 ($5,000 as our contribution to surgery which actually cost many times that amount, $4,199 for plane tickets, and $1,826 for food, medicine, diapers, and other miscellaneous expenses--see attached spreadsheet), leaving $16,408.

As promised, if you would like the pro-rated remainder of your donation returned to you, please reply to this email and let us know in the next 7 days. At that point, we will donate the rest of the money to Rotary's Gift of Life program, where it will help fund a trip by the same surgical team that performed Kalila's surgery. They will travel to the Middle East to conduct lifesaving heart surgeries for children like Kalila and train local doctors. We've been told that $16,000 will pay for surgery for another 2 or 3 children there, which would be wonderful.

With our heartfelt thanks,

Kelsey and Taren
For more from Taren or to read up on Kalila (from Taren), you can check Taren’s blog.

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