Two years ago on Father’s Day, Sonny Grech received a card. In it was $6,200.
The money was given to him by about 30 of his fellow Naples Rotary Club members with the intention that it be used for his Gift of Life efforts. Gift of Life sponsors children with life-threatening illnesses in the search for medical treatment, and for Grech, the quest was personal: His son Michael, who had epilepsy, was 27 when he died of a seizure.
The Naples Rotary Club now participates in the Gift of Life International and Gift of Life of Florida programs; Grech is the vice-president of the latter group.
To date, the Naples Rotary has sponsored seven children with grave illnesses. They’ve hailed from Venezuela, Belize, El Salvador and Uganda.
In mid-June, Grech traveled to El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, to bring back two more young children. One child would receive medical treatment in Bradenton and the other, 3-year-old Paula Margareta Benitez Coreas, who needed surgery to patch a quarter-sized hole in her heart, would be hosted in Naples along with her mother, Louisa Margharita Coreas, and treated at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood.
Each surgery costs $5,000, but for the children, it’s the difference between life and death, Grech said. He has learned from the doctors that, without surgery, most of the children the club helps would likely only live until they were about 8 years old.
Since Paula’s six-hour surgery on June 23, he has seen a marked lift in the little girl’s spirits, Grech said.
“She just plays and plays,” Grech said.
Louisa Coreas, 31, agreed, saying that her daughter has more energy since the procedure.
Speaking in Spanish, Louisa Coreas said she was glad that the Rotary Club extended the offer of help to Paula; there’s no such club in El Salvador, and she believes it’s good to help children in need.
Rotary International created a special program to help children in El Salvador, Grech noted. As part of that program, 38 children were identified who needed open-heart surgery, including Paula.
During their stay in Naples, Paula and her mother stayed with Naples Rotary Club host families, as well as other Spanish-speaking host families. They visited the beach, the Naples Pier, the Naples Zoo and even the Sun-n-Fun Lagoon Water Park, Grech said.
Paula returned to Joe DiMaggio on July 8 for a check-up. Doctors gave her a good prognosis, Grech said, and cleared her for a return to El Salvador later this month.
Grech will be sorry to see them go.
“It’s really sad when they leave because you get attached to them,” he said.
He always asks that the families take a picture of his son Michael home with them, “because Michael is their angel,” he said.
“This wouldn’t have happened without him,” Grech said.
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E-mail Elizabeth Kellar at firstname.lastname@example.org