It’s supposed to happen in just a couple of days, but 10-year-old Moises Leal isn’t thinking about an operation that many are hoping will repair his severely weakened heart.
The shy third-grader from Venezuela has been kept distracted by exploring a little bit of the United States culture for the first time.
Moises is the first child that the Rotary Club of Naples Bay has sponsored through the Gift of Life program.
The Rotary Club helped bring Moises and his parents to the United States a few days ago for an open-heart surgery at no cost. It’s planned for Tuesday or Wednesday in a hospital on Florida’s east coast.
Moises’ parents, Nerio Leal, 36, and Maria Garcia-Leal, 38, are grateful to God and everyone involved in providing their son with a much-needed surgery that isn’t available in their native country.
“I have a lot of faith in the doctors from the United States,” Garcia-Leal said in Spanish.
Moises was born with one ventricular valve and other heart-related ailments. He underwent surgery in Venezuela at 6 months old and 5 years old.
Garcia-Leal, who is a nurse, recalled selling “tortas” (sandwiches) to raise additional money for her child’s first surgery in Venezuela.
“I hope this surgery is the last one,” Maria Garcia-Leal said.
Unlike his mother, Moises, who isn’t shy about showing the scar on his chest, isn’t nervous about the operation.
Moises, who gets tired easily, said with a huge smile on his face that after the surgery he wants to ride a bicycle and study.
Meanwhile, the Leal family of Maracaibo, Venezuela, has been living with a host family in North Naples — Ken Ruskin and his wife, Ruth, both Rotary Club of Naples Bay members.
With many hand gestures and the help of a Spanish-English translation dictionary, both families have been able to communicate.
The Leal and Ruskin families visited the Caribbean Gardens, the Zoo in Naples, on Wednesday.
Standing up from his wheelchair, Moises’ eyes grew wide as he saw several alligators and crocodiles.
“I have only seen them on TV,” Moises said in Spanish, laughing when he saw an alligator open its mouth.
Ruth Ruskin flipped through the pages of a pocket-sized translation dictionary and said “peligro” (danger) pointing at the animals.
And when Moises saw the boat that they were about to travel on for a tour, he jumped out of his wheelchair.
It was his first time riding on a boat.
Once on the boat, Moises whispered to his father, asking him if the boat could flip over. Leal assured him it wouldn’t.
They got a chance to look at wildlife on the primate expedition cruise on Lake Victoria of the Caribbean Garden’s islands.
Moises laughed each time he saw the monkeys’ acrobatic swinging from tree to tree.
“He is so bright and cheerful,” said Ken Ruskin, 71.
Not only was the trip to the zoo fun, the Leal couple said, but it helped distract them from the upcoming surgery.
The family also has a daughter, Veronica, 6.
The Gift of Life program began in 1975 and grew throughout 70 Rotary Clubs in the United States, saving nearly 10,000 children with congenital heart defects from more than 36 countries, mostly Third World countries, according to the Gift of Life officials.
The Rotary Club donated $5,000 to the hospital for the coming surgery to repair heart defects.
In Southwest Florida, there are 55 Rotaries that participate in the Gift of Life program, which was established in 1995.
Rotary International has an agreement with the hospital to perform the surgeries through the club’s Gift of Life program.
“It’s a life-changing experience,” Ken Ruskin said, “to see this child that was told he could die if he didn’t get the surgery and he couldn’t get it in his country.”
Throughout the past week, the Leal family was introduced at local Rotary Clubs’ regular luncheon meetings and visited the Naples Botanical Garden in East Naples.
The Ruskins left this weekend to take the Leal family to the Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
Moises’ mother — among others — is praying.
Praying for her son’s upcoming surgery to go flawlessly.