Local organization giving the ‘Gift of Life’

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Roxana Gashi, 6, is flanked by Gift of Life volunteers who came to pick her up from the airport.
Roxana Gashi, 6, is flanked by Gift of Life volunteers who came to pick her up from the airport. (Photo by Janelle Clausen)

Roxana Gashi, a 6-year-old girl from Kosovo, faces a life-threatening hole in her heart.

But she is not facing it alone – and she just might conquer it.

Roxana and her father, Emrulla, arrived at Kennedy International Airport on Monday. They were greeted and guided by volunteers from Gift of Life Inc., a Great Neck-based nonprofit that helps connect children with free heart procedures.

“The children will go back 100 percent,” said Manhasset Rotarian Robbie Donno, the founder and director of Gift of Life. “They’ll live a normal life.”

The procedure Roxane will be receiving, volunteers said, essentially involves placing a catheter into the heart vein.  An umbrella-like device will open up at each end, which plugs the hole and allows the heart tissue to grow over it.

Normally, Donno said, these procedures could cost tens of thousands of dollars. But thanks to the group’s wide network and connection with St. Francis Hospital, the procedure is only $6,000 – and paid for, thanks to a donation from rag & bone in Americana Manhasset.

“We started explaining to them [rag & bone] that it’s $6,000 to get a child here,” said Angela Lostritto, a Gift of Life board member and Manhasset Rotary member who works with the Americana Manhasset each year for its Champions of Charity fundraiser.

The fundraiser normally requires a store to donate 25 percent of sales during the fundraising period to a cause, Lostritto said. He said the store was due to donate $3,200 to $4,200 but opted to write a check to pay for the procedure instead.

“They stepped up,” Lostritto said.

Still though, for the child and parents coming to the United States, it can be daunting.

That’s why Freddie Sadiku, the owner of the Toscanini Restaurant in Port Washington and a Gift of Life volunteer, went to the airport to pick Roxana and her father up. A speaker of six languages, he helped Roxana and her father navigate Customs, and returned with the girl’s backpack over his shoulder.

From there, he said he intends to counsel them through the medical process and pick up the tab for their food so Gift of Life can use the money to fly another child in for treatment.

“From the moment they come in [to] the moment they leave, they are under my care,” Sadiku said.

Craig Meisel, who went to the airport with his daughter Sophia, 6, first became involved three years ago on the fundraising end. He recalled the organization saying that it had helped 18,000 children with congenital heart disease then – and now the total is around 23,000.

“This was the first opportunity I had as a Rotarian to come to the airport and pick up the Gift of Life recipient, so I jumped at the chance,” Meisel said, noting that Donno first brought the idea up to him.

And the importance of it all was definitely not lost on Sophia.

“She has a little hole in her heart. We came all the way to the airport to pick her up and fix her heart,” Sophia, a proud kindergarten graduate, said. “Then we will rescue her so she could run again.”

As for Sophia’s father, Sadiku said he was very grateful for the opportunity to save his daughter’s life.

“Thank you for opening the doors so my child can be the survivor,” Emrulla Gashi said, as translated by Sadiku.

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