The 7,400-Mile Surgery

Ten-year-old Kevin wants to be a doctor when he grows up. But a very short time ago, he didn’t believe he’d grow up at all.

Miranda Cleland
Published in
6 min readMay 11, 2017


Meet Kevin, a young boy from Burundi who overcame a debilitating heart condition with the help of a local nonprofit leader.

Kevin, who lives in Ruhagarika, Burundi, suffered from a severe heart defect called hypoplastic right ventricle and had been hospitalized for acute heart failure multiple times. His heart condition resulted in fluid build-up around his heart and in his abdomen. If untreated, most children with Kevin’s condition die very early in life.

“I had no hope I would ever get better,” said Kevin. “I thought I was going to die because my family is very poor.”

Prosper Ndabishuriye, who runs the nonprofit school for orphans and vulnerable children that Kevin attends, realized how dire Kevin’s condition was in late December 2016, and took to Facebook. He explained that the surgery would cost about $15,000 — nearly as much as his primary school teachers’ total salaries for an entire year. Prosper is not a doctor, nor does he run a clinic, but that didn’t stop him from raising more than $17,000 for Kevin’s surgery, which was completely unavailable in east and central Africa.

Prosper and Kevin stop for a photo after Kevin’s surgery.

“When I saw Kevin on the street, begging by showing his navel to me and asking me for help, I got a strong desire to do something, something that would lessen Kevin’s pain. I ended up trying as much as you would have tried for me,” Prosper said.

A connection stretching from Burundi to the United States to India

Before long, Prosper had rallied some of his school’s most dedicated donors, including Kim and Dan from the United States. Dan’s employer matched his very generous donation through GlobalGiving, a crowdfunding community that brings together nonprofits, donors, and companies for good causes. The match brought Kevin even closer to his surgery. Prosper called GlobalGiving daily to check on the matching funds coming from Dan’s company.

“It was really helpful to have GlobalGiving to work through, especially for this need,” said Dan.

“A lot of times you don’t get a sense of what your contribution exactly did to help,” said Dan of his gift. “In this case, we thought, ‘Here’s a real chance for us to make a real impact and possibly save a child’s life.’ That really drew us to this situation. We really wanted to take this on.”

Kim had been following Kevin’s story on Facebook. “We thought, how do you decide which need to give to when there are so many? But when I saw Kevin, this need was put on my heart.”

While waiting for the donations to come through, Prosper wasted no time in arranging Kevin’s surgery. Apollo’s Children’s Hospital in Chennai, India agreed to do the surgery. Prosper’s wife Marie, a registered nurse, agreed to accompany Kevin to India so he wouldn’t have to go alone. Once GlobalGiving sent a disbursement of nearly $4,000 on March 10, Prosper was able to begin booking flights and hotels. Kevin and Marie flew to India on March 15 for his surgery planned for March 21.

Just hours after the surgery was complete, Prosper shared amazing news with everyone who followed the little boy’s journey on Facebook: Kevin’s surgery was a success!

Kevin was all smiles after his surgery.

But the journey wasn’t quite over yet. Kevin’s hospital bill was higher than expected, and he couldn’t be released from the hospital until the bill was paid. The power of the crowd came to the rescue — because of some special donors dedicated to Kevin’s health, GlobalGiving’s ability to quickly get money anywhere in the world, and Prosper’s resourcefulness, the bill was paid on time. Kevin was released from the hospital on April 4.

Kevin’s homecoming

Throughout all of this, Prosper posted almost-daily updates on Kevin’s situation to Facebook. The day before Kevin traveled back to Burundi, Prosper talked to Kevin on the phone. Kevin asked him to tell his mother to cook cassava ugali (a starchy porridge) and meat for his welcome home meal.

“I can eat everything now!” said Kevin. “And I can sleep well in any position.”

On April 12, Kevin and his nurse finally arrived home after nearly an entire month in India. Kevin’s mother, sister, the chief of his village, and Prosper welcomed them home with a big celebratory dinner at Fleur de Sel restaurant in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi. Afterward, Kevin returned to his village, Ruhagarika, where about 11,000 people live 32 miles from Bujumbura.

Kevin’s family welcomed him home to Burundi and took him out for dinner.

“The best part about India was how nice the doctors and nurses were. They took care of me. Also, I saw some nice big houses there,” said Kevin about his favorite part of his journey. “I never believed that I would ever fly in an airplane! I thought airplanes were only for rich people and people in the government. I was so happy to fly in the airplane. They gave me food, drinks, and tea. I was not expecting that.”

Kevin’s mother, Appolonie, a 45-year-old farmer, had begun to believe Kevin would never be healed. Now, their lives have changed forever — thanks to the power of the crowd.

“I was full of sadness before Kevin’s surgery because I had no money to send him away to the doctor. I had no peace. But when Kevin came home from India, I was filled with happiness and joy. He was smiling, in good health, and eating everything,” said Appolonie, a widow.

Kevin with his classmates in Burundi.

With his ordeal behind him, little Kevin’s attention has now turned to other children who are suffering.

“Thank you so much to everyone who helped so I could get my heart operation,” Kevin told GlobalGiving during a Skype interview with a big smile across his face. “Like you helped me, please help other kids!”

Kevin with kids from his village, Ruhagarika.

Update: A year later

March 2018 marked one year since Kevin’s life-saving heart surgery in India. In the last year, Kevin turned 11 years old, started second grade at Iwacu Kazoza School, and visited doctors in Bujumbura who gave him a clean bill of health. He lives with his mother, grandmother, and three younger siblings in Ruhagarika and still wants to be a doctor when he grows up. Appolonie, his mother, has noticed his big appetite, which was absent before the surgery.

Perhaps the starkest difference since the surgery is Kevin’s smile.

“Before, everyone in the village knew Kevin because he would walk around begging,” said Prosper. Kevin no longer begs: He plays, runs, and learns like every other child in Ruhagarika. “Now, everyone knows him because he is a miracle.”

Kevin with his mother and baby brother one year after the surgery.

How you can help

Kevin attends one of the best schools in Burundi, run by Prosper’s nonprofit JRMD. Donate to Iwacu Kazoza School today to help support Kevin’s education.



Miranda Cleland

Fan of sustainable development, global education, the environment, and breakfast food.