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


Published March 5, 2019

“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 were brought to the U.S. for heart surgery for the first time. Our 50-year history began when a young Marine doctor serving in Vietnam asked his father in Minnesota, Dr. Frank Johnson, to help these three Vietnamese children.

The stories of each of the children were similar – they were transported to the United States to treat congenital heart disease, and different, with their own life journey afterwards.

Ten-year-old Quit was one of them.

“During our four days in California while awaiting word about the tickets to Minneapolis, we took Quit one evening to Disneyland, taking her on some of the milder rides. She had a marvelous time. When the fireworks went off she cringed in fear. The explosions and lit-up sky were only too familiar to her. Her introduction to America was a bit overwhelming,” wrote Gordon Smith, field chairman of United World Mission, who accompanied Quit and two other children to the U.S. and then brought them back to Vietnam.

Overall, 643 children received treatment in Minnesota during the 23 years that Children’s HeartLink flew little patients to the state. The children were housed – sometimes for months – by local families and congregations. A few of them were adopted by American families to provide good care after treatment.

Minnesota hospitals agreed to perform surgeries free of charge on these foreign-born kids.

Quit’s surgery at the Swedish Hospital in Minneapolis lasted for four-and-a-half hours and was performed by several top-flight heart surgeons. The hospital staff – nurses, janitors and others – had donated 30 pints of blood for Quit because the machine had to be primed to take over the function of her damaged heart.

Quit made a quick recovery and on the fourth day was able to leave the hospital.

Was It Worth It?

“The contribution of the airplanes, hospital and medical personnel could amount to thousands of dollars in value for each child. Some might say, ‘Was it worth it?’ With thousands of needy children,  should we help the ones and twos? We believe we should. Even though we had to walk a few miles over the rice fields with 4-year-old Anh to return him to his thatched farmhouse far from town, and we may never see him again,” wrote Gordon Smith after his trip.

This was what he believed. As well as – Dr. Frank Johnson, who decided to treat children traveling far away from home; his partner Dr. Joseph Kiser, who founded Children’s HeartLink, and many others, who contributed to Children’s HeartLink’s work in 1969 and many years after.

Our approach has changed over the years, but our commitment to helping children with heart disease has never wavered. We believe that every child’s life matters, and every child deserves a healthy heart.

Today, we save lives by training in-country medical teams in Brazil, China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam. This way, children can be treated successfully at their local hospitals. And that means more and more children can be helped! In our half-a-century, we’ve already helped over one million children with heart disease. And now we have an ambitious plan to reach one million more children in just over a decade!

Share your story on our 50 Years Blog! If you were a host family or if you have a Children’s HeartLink story or photos, please contact us: hello@childrensheartlink.org.