KATY, TX - MaryAnn is an energetic 15-month-old. She and her mother Maureen came all the way from Uganda to get her a very special gift, a HeartGift.
"They arrived at the beginning of August, and the reason for their visit was for MaryAnn to have lifesaving heart surgery,” said HeartGift Houston Executive Director, Rachael Wright.
MaryAnn is just one of more than 200 children from over 30 countries to receive that care through HeartGift, which is a non-profit that brings children with congenital heart defects to the United States for free lifesaving surgery.
In MaryAnn's case, her illness created a day-to-day struggle for her and her family.
"When she sees children outside, she wants to play with them, join them, but you can't let her join them because you're scared of maybe picking up an infection, and you're back in the hospital,” explained her mother, Maureen.
Those fears have been an everyday reality for Maureen since MaryAnn was diagnosed when she was just a month old, but three weeks ago, MaryAnn received her surgery at Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital. That is a day Maureen will never forget.
"It gives me joy, and peace of mind and heart, that my daughter is able to do all things without holding back,” explained Maureen. "Some people would not understand, they have really helped me and my family,” Maureen said through tears, thinking about all of the people at HeartGift, Samaritan’s Purse, along with the doctors, nurses, her host family, and all the volunteers who made this gift possible.
“They helped me take a burden off, something that I was holding, not knowing whom to turn to, whom to look up to… They've really done so much for us. I'd like to thank them for everything that they did for us,” Maureen said.
However, as grateful as Maureen is, those who have met her and MaryAnn on their trip feel equally as lucky to have shared in this experience, including Maureen and MaryAnn’s host mother, Laurie Weber.
"When we met Maureen and MaryAnn at the airport, I knew right away we had a connection before we even got there,” Laurie said as she teared up. “You find you have many blessings. You realize how blessed you are."
It’s apparent MaryAnn's journey isn't just for her, or her family, it's been a gift for everyone who's been touched by this loving little soul.