2006-06-09 / Community

Foreign Girl Gets Heart Help She Needs

By Brian Magoolaghan

Schavel, an 8-year-old heart patient from Jamaica, stands with her new American friend, Emily.
Schavel, an 8-year-old heart patient from Jamaica, stands with her new American friend, Emily. A young Jamaican girl in need of a life-saving heart operation underwent surgery on Long Island Tuesday, with help, support and an important reminder from a group you might not expect - the Rockaway Rotary.

Heart patient Schavel McKenzie, 8, and her mother, Madge, came to New York courtesy of Gift of Life International, whose core mission is to help kids who don't have access to the heart-related medical services they need, regardless of race, gender, creed or national origin.

Schavel, described as very shy girl with big and beautiful brown eyes, has suffered from a heart murmur that restricted her growth and threatened her life.

Rockaway Rotarians, members of an international association of business leaders that provides humanitarian services and promotes business ethics, were recruited to help through a network of Rotary clubs in the Long Island area. They were there to greet the girl and her mother when they arrived, helped make their stay comfortable, kept close tabs on their itinerary and will take them to the airport when they depart.

Rotarian Mark Dana, Senior Mortgage Lending Officer with HSBC, said Schavel needed a tube inserted in an artery to clear a blockage. The procedure has a 95 percent success rate, he said. But the issue wasn't the difficulty of the procedure, it was access to it. "Things that are considered routine here are not necessarily readily available to people in other places," explained Rotarian and Wave general manager Sanford Bernstein.

"She wouldn't have survived over the long term."

Dana picked Schavel and her mother up at JFK International Airport on June 1 and brought them to an area motel. The next morning, Dana and his 10-year-old daughter, Emily, brought Schavel and her mother to breakfast and then to the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital, where they would stay.

To help her feel welcome, Emily gave Schavel a special guardian angel with a Jamaican likeness that she made out of clay. "It was very comforting [for Schavel] to have someone her own age there," Dana said. "Emily spent the day with Schavel and was the only one who got her to speak or smile the whole day. I was so proud of her."

Dana took Mavel to Waldbaum's to stock up on food essentials and sat with her as doctors at Schneider performed blood tests and x-rays on Schavel. He would later write in a letter to Rotarians that the experience was "the most personally satisfying thing" that he's done since joining the Rotary.

Other Rotarians helped out, too. Nancy Hansen of Roxbury USA visited and brought one of her company's signature teddy bears. Offering more proof that people everywhere have a connection to Rockaway, the daughter of Rotary member and Beach Club owner Steve Good, Alyssa, volunteers at the same Ronald McDonald House.

During another visit, the early-to-rise Brother Tom Trager of St. John's Residence for Boys made a big save and kept Schavel from missing her date with doctors.

Trager arrived at the Ronald McDonald House at 6 a.m. Tuesday - one hour before Shavel's scheduled surgery appointment with doctors. He knocked on the door to the unit where the girl and her mother were staying, but when they came to the door they were not ready; they lost track of time and thought the surgery was still a day away.

Stunned, Trager said it was a "good thing" he was early because, "the mom thought it was Monday."

Trager got Schavel to her appointment on time and watched with Mavel as she was wheeled into the operating room. Trager said it was then that he was able to appreciate what everyone was doing for Schavel. "It does give one cause to appreciate the things we take for granted," said Trager, who saw the "devotion and support" of the parents in the hospital waiting room and was thankful for the health of his family members. "It builds your spirit up," he said.

Although doctors are not allowed to disclose patients' information by law, The Wave learned from Dana that Schavel's prognosis was good. Dana went to visit the girl and her mother Tuesday night after the procedure. "The operation was a success," he said. "Schavel was very energetic, very happy, jumping up and down the way an 8-year-old kid should be doing."

The Rotary even provided Mavel with phone cards so she could call back home with the good news. Schavel's father and four siblings remained in Jamaica.

Madge, who was described as appreciative and reserved, did not return our call for an interview.

"She seemed very relieved at the outcome of the operation," said Dana. "[Madge] didn't say much, but I could see she was very relieved the worst was over."

Gift of Life's International has helped about 8,000 kids like Schavel since 1974, according to its website. The organization's mission is to "further the cause of world peace and understanding."

For more information go to www. GiftOfLife International.org or call (516) 504-0830.

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