By Debi Lammert, an Advanced Practice Nurse from Tulsa, Oklahoma, specializing in Pediatrics and Pediatric Surgery/Cardiology/Cardiac Surgery, and a long-time volunteer with Children’s Heart Project.
Sometimes people ask me how I got involved in volunteering with Samaritan’s Purse. Actually, it happened in a funny sort of way.
One day at work, I was talking with the parents of a 4-year-old little boy—a heart patient who was having a cardiac catheterization. I offered prayer before the test and they responded positively because they were also Christians.
Later in the day, the parents handed me a Samaritan’s Purse newsletter that described a “new program.” Children from the war-torn country of Bosnia needed heart surgery, and SP was helping to find hospitals and surgeons in the U.S. that would offer that care for free.
Intrigued, I showed the newsletter to the pediatric cardiac surgeon, one of our pediatric cardiologists, and the anesthesiologists during our weekly conference. All were in favor of helping.
Our hospital administration had already received a request from an Internal Medicine doctor on staff, who wanted to know if I would ask the pediatric cardiac surgeon and cardiologist to donate their services to help children from overseas. The doctor’s family would host the group.
Administration was on board, but they needed to know if the specialists would offer their services for free. I immediately told the director that our pediatric cardiac team doctors would love to provide charity care for overseas children. Thinking that I had misunderstood her question, she restated it. “No, Debi, I want you to ASK them if they will do it … take your time … get back with me.”
Her surprise was evident when I responded that we had ALREADY discussed it, and they had unanimously answered “yes” to a question that she had not yet asked!
The two children arrived about eight weeks later. Visas and passports were obtained; dates were changed several times; even the arrival time changed as flights were delayed and missed.
Finally the weary group arrived into Tulsa at 2 a.m. I advised the host mom to let the group sleep, get a good breakfast, and come to the hospital at their leisure the next afternoon.
I was shocked, then, when I got a page from a staff member at 8 a.m., telling me that there was a “large group of people with two babies” standing outside my office door!
Greeting the group, I noticed that the little toddler girl was irritable and covered in a bright red rash – apparently a reaction to an antibiotic she had been given right before she left Bosnia. The adults were busy, trying to pacify little Emina.
Turning to the other baby, I nearly gasped. She was a dark purplish blue color. Happy and calm, but very cyanotic. Her mom cradled 5-month-old Djana lovingly and protectively in her arms.
I hurried the group into a room on the Pediatric unit and called for some help. The cardiologist responded immediately, concerned that Djana’s oxygen levels were extremely low. Soon she was on her way to the catheterization lab, and from the cath lab, taken immediately to emergency heart surgery.
Throughout the busy day, I kept in touch with Djana’s mom, host mom, and the SP Bosnia country director who had escorted the group to our town. At one point I asked him, “Weren’t you afraid to bring this little blue baby all the way from Bosnia on a commercial flight? What is your medical background? How many more children are like this, waiting for care?”
“No,” he said, “I wasn’t worried; should I have been?”
Bill’s answer to my questions was my first inkling that I might become a volunteer for Children’s Heart Project.
He then invited me to come and see the children in Bosnia, their destroyed medical facilities, and the work that SP was doing there.
Djana and Emina both did well, and I was hooked. I visited them in follow-up a few months after they returned home, and met their families. The fathers were tearful, grateful, and willing to listen to the Gospel that their wives had heard while being cared for and loved on by host families and churches in the U.S.
Seeing the changes in the children, I saw that whole communities were being exposed to the Gospel message through the experience of each child and family. They were being loved into the Kingdom.
I began to provide medical care while escorting children from Bosnia, and later from Kosova, Mongolia, Uganda, Kenya, Bolivia, and Honduras. The program grew, and I am privileged to be a part of the group of nurses, doctors, and other health care professionals who help the children and their caregivers to travel long distances, safely, in order to get the lifesaving care that they need.
I have had the opportunity to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse in many areas, including disaster relief after tornadoes in Oklahoma City and Joplin; cholera response in Haiti; filling Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes, working at the local collection center, and even distributing shoeboxes in Haiti.
Although I love all of these volunteer opportunities, there is still nothing like seeing a weeping, happy “papa” open his arms to welcome back his healed and healthy child … a child that he had said goodbye to weeks before, not knowing if he would see them alive again.
Or, to have a Mongolian grandma place a blue scarf around your neck, shove a bowl of traditional steaming mare’s milk in your hands, and repeatedly hug and kiss you in thanks.
Or, to look around at multiple families in Kosova during a Heart Party, children running and playing in good health, family members hungry to hug your neck and tell you their latest news, praying with them and sharing once again that I do this because of Jesus Christ, who also loves them so much!
Many people ask me if I get paid to do this kind of work. And the answer is “Yes. I get paid in love.”