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1969-2019 Celebrating Our Past, Looking Toward the Future

2019 is Children’s HeartLink 50th year. This milestone has been achieved through the collective efforts of many: medical volunteers, partner hospitals, board members, staff, corporate funders and individual donors. We want to acknowledge many heroes in this effort who have paved the way to our success. We would not be where we are today without their vision, persistence, hard work and leadership. Read our 50 Years Blog to learn more about the people and events that brought us to this half-century mark.

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Pediatric Heart Surgery: From Minnesota to the World

In 1969, a young medic serving in Vietnam asked his father in Minnesota to help three Vietnamese children with congenital heart disease. His father and the community stepped up to lend their expertise and saved children who would have otherwise died. A new organization was born from their success.

Our approach has changed over the years, but our commitment to helping children with heart disease
has never wavered.

Our Early Years

Our early years were shaped by forces that came together to make Minnesota a world leader in heart surgery, medical device development and philanthropy. Celebrated cardiac surgeons at the University of Minnesota built their early practices working with children born with heart defects. Their desperate parents and these pioneering doctors were co-participants in advancing heart surgery while striving to give these children a chance at normal life.

One of those pioneering surgeons was Children’s HeartLink founder Dr. Joseph Kiser. When Dr. Kiser and his partner, Dr. Frank Johnson (the father of the medic) accepted responsibility for Vietnamese children suffering from congenital heart disease in 1969, they set in motion a commitment to improving global health.

It took a village to ensure that the foreign-born children had the resources to fly, sometimes by themselves, to Minnesota for surgery and recovery. Minnesota hospitals and surgical teams juggled schedules and paperwork, and offered their services free-of-charge, to perform these operations. The children were housed, nursed and nurtured—often for months—by local families and congregations dedicated to improving the lives of children from Vietnam, Greece, Ethiopia and Korea.

During the 23 years that children were transported to Minnesota, 643 patients received treatment. Medical missions to underserved countries began in 1993, and over the next 9 years, 814 children were treated.

A New Approach with Greater Impact

By 2003, our model evolved into the “train the trainer” program. We started training local medical teams in the countries where we worked, making it possible for children to be helped in their own country.

Today we mentor and train in-country medical specialists at 16 partner hospitals in Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. In 2018 our partner hospitals served over 135,000 children.

One Million More Children by 2030

In our first 47 years, we reached just over one million children with heart disease. We are making strategic investments now so we can reach one million more children with heart disease in the next 10 years. We have an aggressive plan to train more in-country medical teams. These teams in turn will be able to treat more children who need and deserve care.

We want to hear from you!

Share your Children’s HeartLink stories and photos with us at hello@childrensheartlink.org

50 Years Blog

50 Years Blog: For the Sake of Three Little Children

This postcard was sent from Da Nang, Vietnam, in 1975, when U.S. mission organizations had to evacuate “because of deteriorating conditions” in the region   “Eight weeks away from home and work – for the sake of three little children…” This is the first line of a typewritten letter from 1969 when children from Vietnam … Continued

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