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20 Years of Hope: Joy

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Almost immediately after she was born, tiny Joy was whisked away from her mother to undergo emergency surgery for a life-threatening intestinal condition. Days later, she was diagnosed with a complex heart issue as well — an atrioventricular (AV) canal defect. This condition involves a large hole in the very center of the heart chambers, along with faulty valves. Without surgery, Joy’s heart would eventually fail.

Serious toddler girl in a gold, red, and black dress sitting on mom's lap

Upon hearing this news, Joy’s father deserted his wife and newborn daughter. Sadly, it is not uncommon for mothers and children in Uganda to be abandoned after a difficult medical diagnosis. Overwhelmed and now completely on her own, Joy’s mom, Lydia, had to carry the full weight of navigating her daughter’s medical crisis. Even as she struggled to pay for the most minimal food and shelter, she knew she couldn’t give up trying to save the life of her baby girl.

Mom holding baby daughter with heart defect on her lap while waiting for help

One day, Lydia found an old, discarded megaphone that she realized could amplify her voice. She began pleading on the streets for people to help her daughter. Each day she moved from place to place, begging through the megaphone for funds that could help get Joy the medical care she needed. Despite being truly exhausted from walking all day to each new region, she told us, “I only had to look at Joy’s sweet face to know I could not give up.”

Selfie of Mom and daughter in Uganda

One lonely day, however, after counting the meager funds she had gathered, Lydia came to the sobering realization that she would never be able to raise enough money to pay for her daughter’s heart surgery.

Even with that anguish, she refused to surrender. She walked wearily to the heart hospital and once again raised the megaphone to her mouth. Instead of asking for funding, however, she began pleading for the names of charities that were helping children in Uganda.

Little Girl sitting on an ottoman holding a red toy

What happened next was absolutely amazing.

LWB had recently provided heart surgery for a little girl named Mia. At the exact moment that Lydia was crying out to the universe that she needed a charity to help her daughter live, Mia’s mom walked by and heard her plea. It was like a chance meeting arranged in heaven!

Mia’s mom shared with Lydia that her daughter’s surgery had been arranged by Love Without Boundaries. She had the phone number of LWB directors Joy and Ronald saved in her phone. She quickly pulled up the contact information and wrote their number down on a small scrap of paper.

Lydia, who just moments before had felt such a heavy weariness that no one seemed to care about her daughter’s life, now had LWB’s phone number clenched tightly in her hand. Within days, our Uganda medical team had little Joy’s medical file evaluated by specialists, and soon after she was accepted for surgery by Narayana Hospital in Kolkata, India.

Girl lying on couch smiling with hair in two pigtails

We were so grateful to our wonderful Cardiac Care program supporters who fully funded Joy’s surgery. Everything was falling perfectly into place for Joy to finally get the heart surgery she needed. Passports were issued and airline tickets arranged. However, when Joy and her mom were standing at the Indian embassy in Uganda in early March 2020, waiting to pick up their medical visas, the news reported that international airports around the world were closing immediately due to COVID-19.

In an instant, Lydia’s dream of saving her daughter’s life was suddenly put on hold.

Sad girl sitting on the ground in a brightly colored dress

To say it was an excruciating eight-month wait would be an understatement, but we never gave up hope. We regularly checked in with Joy’s mom, reassuring her that the LWB community was praying continually for her daughter. We also provided nutritional support during the lockdown to keep Joy as strong as possible. As the months passed, we tried our best to give Lydia the much-needed peace that she and her daughter would be on their way to India for the long-anticipated surgery the moment Uganda’s airport was open once again for business.

In November 2020, the day Joy’s mom had longed for finally arrived: the Uganda airport reopened for international flights. This inseparable duo soon took their very first airplane ride all the way from East Africa to India.

Mom holds daughter on her lap while they wait to travel

Following a host of exams and in-depth consultations, darling Joy was cleared to undergo surgery. She received her life-saving heart operation on November 20th, and we all cheered loudly when she was able to come off the ventilator just a few hours later.

Little girl in hospital bed following heart surgery

Joy and Lydia’s story illustrates so clearly how keeping HOPE in our hearts can sustain us. Even during her own darkest hours, abandoned and alone, Joy’s mom continued to fight for her daughter’s life, clinging to the hope that someone would finally hear her plea. We are grateful that, while so many others simply hurried by, the person who finally listened to the tired mom with a megaphone was another parent touched by LWB.

Girl in a white dress with a red and blue background with hair in braids

Joy is currently enrolled in a local school and is doing very well. LWB was able to help Lydia establish a hair salon, so this precious little family now has a steady income and a pathway out of extreme poverty.

With each new child accepted into our medical program, the circle of heart families in Uganda continues to grow and strengthen. Whenever we post about a new child who needs surgery on our Facebook or Instagram pages, the parents of the Ugandan children already healed always write such heartfelt messages of caring and support. They celebrate the children we heal in countries other than Uganda because they understand so profoundly that love has no boundaries when it comes to a child’s life.

In this big and often messy world, there’s so much comfort to be found in being part of a welcoming community. When we take the time to listen and encourage one another…whether in person, online, and yes, even through a megaphone…that’s when real possibilities unfold.

Girl smiling in a hot pink sundress with hair in two buns
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