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Rotary Club gives girl, 2, chance for healthy life

BRADENTON — A sick little girl in Central America will receive a second chance for a healthy life thanks to a charitable partnership between the Rotary Club of Bradenton and All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

On June 15, Lixi Johana Ramirez Ascencio, 2, will travel with her mother from their home in El Salvador to All Children’s Hospital for open-heart surgery to correct a congenital defect.

The Rotary Club of Bradenton, working through Gift of Life International, is sponsoring the family’s trip to Florida and the family’s stay here.

According to Rotary membership chairman Tim Milligan, Lixi is unable to gain weight, becomes tired easily and does not have the energy to play with her siblings because of her heart condition.

“The kids normally come in ashen and barely able to move,” said Milligan, a board member for the local Gift of Life International organization. “By the time they go home, they’re running up and down the halls, tearing wallpaper off the walls.”

Lixi’s family of 10 earns a total household income of $3 a day, Milligan said. Cardiac surgery is not available to the family in El Salvador. Gift of Life International has arranged for 38 El Salvadoran children to receive cardiac surgery in hospitals around the world, he said.

The Rotary Club contributed $5,000 and made the arrangements with All Children’s Hospital. Milligan will host Lixi and her mother at his Bradenton home before and after the surgery. Other club members will help out, and the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce has offered volunteers of El Salvadorian descent to visit the family.

“It engages the clubs that are involved because they have a financial contribution along with housing the child and providing travel,” Milligan said.

Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs, a cardiologist at All Children’s Hospital, will perform the surgery. He and his staff have donated their time for the procedure, said Michael Epstein, the hospital’s senior vice president of medical affairs. Normally the procedure would cost about $25,000 with another $5,000 to $8,000 tacked on for physicians’ fees under normal circumstances, he said.

“We do a lot of charity care,” Epstein said. “As a nonprofit, we’re expected to do some of that, but it’s more a philosophy of ours.”

Lixi will be in the hospital for five days after her surgery, and her mother will stay at a nearby Ronald McDonald House, Epstein said. The family then will be asked to stay in the area for about two weeks to make sure there are no complications.