A new heart for baby Raj - just in time for Valentine’s Day

  • Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Neysha Stone, a Jamaican mother of two, brought her 13-month-old son Rajriquex to Charleston for life saving heart surgery at the Medical University of South Carolina. The District 7770 Rotary Gift of Life Program partners with MUSC to cover the costs of the surgery and to house the families while they are here. STAFF PHOTOS BY SULLY WITTE


The Rotary Gift of Life has once again saved a life. This time it was for a 13-month-old baby boy from Jamaica.

And his repairedheart was beating just fine, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

The son of a young, 26-year-old mother of two, Rajriquez Shaquani Smith was born with a heart defect that should have killed him by the age of 6 months.

Despite the ability to diagnose his heart defect, doctors in Jamaica could not conduct the needed surgery to fix the hole in his heart.

The determination of a loving mother pushed Neysha Stone to find the help she needed for her child to be healthy.

The two are the latest recipients of the Rotary Gift of Life program.

Neysha Stone

Neysha was born in Black River Hospital in 1986 in Jamaica. She was raised in a district called Paynestown in New Market.

She had a troubled childhood growing up. She explained that her family was very poor, but they made ends meet. Her mother worked hard at domestic jobs around their city in addition to raising three children.

Neysha too took a job as a young teenager at the national Youth Service Ministry of Education in Jamaica to help supplement the family income.

Her dream was to be a teacher, but she could not attend college because of a lack of money.

She became a self-taught hairdresser and took a job at a local women’s hair salon as well as a retail beauty store.

Taking care of loved ones and the infirm comes naturally to her.

She willingly left her job when her step-father Aaron became ill so that she could take care of him.

During that time she and her husband got the news that they were expecting their second son.

Little did they know, he would have a severe congenital heart disease.

Neysha knew something was not right. After her son Rajriquez was born, she took him to his six-week check up at the clinic. The nurse heard a murmur in his heart. They were then referred to a pediatrician in Black River Hospital. There the doctor certified that it was really a hole in Raj’s heart.

Full of hope, the family was sent to the children’s heart and pediatric center in Kingston, Jamaica. That is where she learned the news of his devastating illness.

The doctor there said they could not perform the needed surgery and that baby Raj would have to have heart surgery by the time he was six months old or he would not live.

The news was devastating. Even worse, Neysha explained, she had no money to take her son overseas in search of help.

Her step-sister Juliette helped her financially so that she could provide the family with the basics.

Neysha’s step-father Aaron passed away, but Neysha was still not able to return to work. She had to take care of Raj who was showing severe signs of lack of oxygen. Neysha first experienced his heart defect during a bath. Raj started to gulp and his lips and the bottom of his hands turned blue.

She rushed him to the hospital and learned he would turn blue because of a lack of oxygen in the blood to the lungs.

All the hospital staff could do was give him oxygen. But every time the baby cried, he would go back into what she called a tet spell. With no oxygen available in their home, Neyhsa continuously rushed him to a hospital every time he had an episode. Her biggest fear was that time was running out.

The Gift of Life

The same day she heard that he had a murmur, she began the search for a way to get her child the needed surgery. She checked for places, called heart associations in Jamaica.

After running into another mother whose child went through the same thing, she was referred to a doctor in Kingston. She met with the doctor there and after paying him large amounts of money, he helped her to search overseas for hospitals who could help this child.

He sent letters requesting help but only one place accepted his request, the Medical University of South Carolina.

Because of the Rotary Gift of Life’s 17-year partnership with MUSC, doctors there contacted local Rotary District 7770 Gift of Life Chairman, Pat Campbell. After considering Raj’s medical condition and lack of ability to pay for the needed surgery, Raj was accepted as a Gift of Life baby. He is one of more than 30 chidlren the local Gift of Life chapters have helped.

The East Cooper Breakfast Rotary Club, the North Charleston Breakfast Rotary Club and the Summerville Rotary Lunch Club all support the Gift of Life program.

Neysha and her son arrived in Charleston on Jan. 30 and was hosted by Mount Pleasant resident Alison Dailey. He was admitted into the pediatric cardiology clinic on a Friday, approved for surgery and underwent the procedure on Tuesday, Feb. 5. Raj recovered so quickly that he didn’t even need to go to the PCICU - Pediatric Cardiology Intensive Care Unit.

He was discharged from the hospital just four days later.

The family is now staying with Sully and Ken Recine and will remain in Charleston until hospital personnel give him a clean bill of health.

When the East Cooper Breakfast Rotary Club began their Gift of Life program, a traditional stay for Gift of Life families was several months. Today, 17 years later, families stay for an average of just four weeks.

The requirements of being accepted into the Gift of Life program is that the families must not have access to the surgery, or have the ability to pay for such a surgery.

Children from all over the world are accepted into the program.

Dr. Scott Bradley was the surgeon who operated on Raj, and Jennifer Flynn Reeves, part of the surgical team was the liaison at the hospital to Gift of Life.

“I think that over the years the partnership between Rotary and MUSC has grown stronger because we not only sponsor three or four children a year, but we have also assisted MUSC medical teams on their outgoing missions and we assist some of their patients who they locate on those missions with Gift of Life assistance,” said Campbell.

“Another major factor in Gift of Life’s success is that now with the internet capabilities to all third world countries it allows us to stay in touch on a regular basis with our kids,” he said. “We have further assisted them if needs occur in their lives and some clubs and Rotarians have supported these children and helped with their education and career opportunities to get them out of poverty.”

For example, he said a young boy named Fransisco, from Panaman, is getting a scholarship for private education in Panama from the local Panama Rotary Club.

“We’ve watched the Gift of Life program grow from strictly a medical need to now fulfilling human needs and that is exemplary of what Rotary is all about - an international service organization,” said Campbell.

New lease on life

Neysha is a very proud mother and is happy that through the Gift of Life program her baby could get second chance at life.

“Now I am happy to know that I won’t have to go through all of this anymore. I see real life in my baby now,” she said. Before his surgery, Raj could not eat anything but liquids. Just days later he has tested actual food at a fast-paced rate.

He is very active, no shortness of breath anymore and has begun to take his first steps. Raj has begun teething and had he endured that mouth pain before surgery, his crying episodes would have likely killed him, Neysha explained. Crying was very hard on his tiny body and heart.

His heart problem was so dangerous that the slightest stress to his heart would have caused it to shut down and he would not been able to breath.

Neysha’s goals when she gets home are to get a job when Raj starts kindergarten at the age of 2. For now, she will continue with her wreath business, making floral and wreath arrangements for funerals and holidays.

She may consider joining Rotary one day.

Her hopes for Raj are to see him grow into a healthy man, and possibly become a pastor or a heart surgeon.

With a new lease on life, he can now be anything he wants to be.

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