Written by Andy Newman, firstname.lastname@example.org Saturday, 24 August 2013 00:00
While visiting a terminally ill patient at St. Francis Hospital in 2011, Munsey Park resident Angela Lostritto, needed to step out of the room, gather her thoughts and get a cup of coffee. She had no idea, when she arrived at the hospital’s coffee shop that the direction of her life was about to change so dramatically.
Lostritto saw what appeared to be a press conference and party going on and she was angry. “I’m really mad at this point,” Lostritto recalled, “because I’m thinking of the serious condition of the patient I just left. I see all this commotion and it looks like they’re having a party.”
The “party” was actually a conference held by Gift of Life International, the organization whose mission is to provide life saving open-heart surgeries to underprivileged children around the world. There she saw Robbie Donno, a friend from Manhasset who has been associated with the program since its creation in 1975 by Manhasset Rotary. He is the Chairman Emeritus of the worldwide organization that has now aided over 15,000 children in 70 countries since that first year.
Donno, of course, helped explain to her what was going on. “I was still very angry,” Lostritto added, “but I see that they’re talking about saving children’s lives. So what do you say? May God forgive me for being angry at that moment. At that point I fell in love with the whole organization. So I told them right there, ‘Let me sponsor a child.’”
“Two weeks later I get a phone call telling me, my little girl is here,” she recalled. “She came and she was a blessing. And I wanted to do more. I think this is what my purpose is. “
Donno is proud of what Angela has accomplished so far. “I’ve been at this 38 years,” said Donno. “Angela’s been at it a little over a year and she’s saved six kids already.”
Lostritto has traveled to Siberia, Jamaica, Moscow, El Salvador, Hungary and Portugal for the program. “I wanted to be on the board but I couldn’t because you had to be a Rotarian,” Lostritto revealed. “So I joined.”
Her most recent project involved bringing a 2½-year-old boy and his mother from Russia last month. Slava Zharkov, born with only half of a normal heart, needed an operation that cost in excess of $200,000. Lostritto met Slava and his mother, Veronica Zharkova, at the airport and brought them to her home to stay with her in early July, prior to the operation.
Lostritto helped mother and son, who live in the city of Voronezh (a five hour drive from Moscow), become acclimated to their surroundings before driving them to Philadelphia for the procedure. She remained with them in the hospital and through the recovery period before bringing them home again. With the operation a success, Zharkova and her son returned to Russia last week.
“The doctors in Philadelphia told me that the prognosis is very good,” Zharkova said. “When I was in Russia all of the doctors there told me that he has a very poor life expectancy. They told me he probably wouldn’t be able to walk. He won’t be able to jump or run because he will get too tired. They told me he is going to be a disabled person but the doctors in Philadelphia told me he will be very active.”
Doctors in Russia had actually advised his mother to terminate the pregnancy at 22 weeks. “They told me that he was going to die,” Zharkova said. “They told me he had no chance to live.”
Zharkova was determined to prove the doctors wrong. Three days after he was born, a first operation was performed in a St. Petersburg hospital. A second operation was done in Berlin several months later, but a third operation was needed and that’s when Gift of Life International became involved. Efforts were coordinated in Russia by Michael Yurieff and Wally Kowabuku from the Gift organization there and Lev Ambinder, a Russian newspaperman.
“I’ve been fortunate to witness some miracles,” Donno said of his many years of experience with the program. “The teams of doctors, the parents, the volunteers all working and blending together to breathe life into this little kid was one of them. A miracle, again, is where you have somebody who I didn’t know well a year ago who’s now pitched in for six kids and helped them,” he said in tribute to Lostritto. “And now to have this lady (Zharkova) sitting here in Manhasset with her son is like hitting the lottery.”