Jeanine Justiniano

My experience at Save a Child’s Heart (SACH) was like none I have ever had or was expecting to have in my life. I am a medical student in Chicago, IL aspiring to be a surgeon one day and I have taken part in many opportunities involving surgery and pediatrics to make sure it is the field of medicine I want to go into. However, none have been as personal as SACH. On the very first day that I arrived to SACH, I started playing with a little girl from Ethiopia. Her name was Mitike and she was the first of the SACH kids to play with me.
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I heard of SACH through my medical school, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. I, and 2 other students applied and were accepted to spend 3 weeks in Israel as a SACH volunteer and medical intern. We had alternating schedules, 2 weeks volunteering at the house and 1 week as a medical intern in the hospital. I was the first to spend the week in the hospital and I could not have asked for better timing. I was with two other medical interns, one from New Zealand and one from Canada living in Tel Aviv. We spent time in the operating theatre, ICU, clinic, and cath lab learning from the Israeli doctors that donated their time to SACH.
For me, the times spent in the operating theatre were incredible and the highlight of my trip. I was able to witness Mitike’s surgery. I was present, standing at the head of the table next to the anesthesiologist, watching and learning from the surgeons that were operating on her, asking as many questions as I could. After the surgery, I was there throughout Mitike’s recovery and at the house when she was finally well enough to leave the hospital. Not many students can say they have seen all of these aspects in a patients life and say they have lived with the patient before and after the surgery. This is the reason why I found my time at SACH so unique to other opportunities I’ve had.
There were many things I learned during my time at SACH. I learned about medicine, healthcare, compassion, empathy, generosity, community, culture, languages. I learned that the patients we see in the hospital are more than just patients, they are people, and by interacting with the kids and their mothers at the house, I learned to be a better person and a better version of myself as a student and future physician.
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I have made so many new friends during my time at SACH. Alice, a 12-year-old
girl from Tanzania, really made an impression on me. She was very smart and wanted to learn how to play the guitar. I would spend an hour every other day teaching her how to play. She picked it up so fast! In return, Alice would try to teach me a bit of Swahili. I learned “habari yako” which means “how are you doing” and “asante sana” which means “thank you very much” among other small phrases. Gloria, also from Tanzania, always had the biggest smile on her face when she walked into any room. You could hear her laugh from far away. It was heartbreaking to see her in the hospital after her surgery while she was recovering. I hope she is feeling better.
I have also made friends with some of the mothers. Marina and Mary were two moms at the house with whom I instantly bonded with. Marina was baby Ranya’s mom from Romania, and Mary was Hannah’s mom from Myanmar. Marina and I loved listening to music in Spanish and I got a lot of great suggestions from her on new and popular songs. Mary taught me how to cook amazing noodles, a recipe I will definitely be using when I get back home.
To get involved as a medical intern or volunteer check out the Save a Child’s Heart website today!

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