Six-year-old Ariun and one-year-old Solongo were brought from Mongolia to Texas in February of 2020, to undergo life-saving surgeries for congenital heart defects. Ariun received his heart surgery at Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin, and Solongo received hers at University Medical Center in San Antonio.
Of every 100 children born, one is born with a congenital heart defect, making it the most common type of birth defect. The surgeries of Ariun and Solongo were made possible by the nonprofit HeartGift which brings children from all around the world for free surgery to correct heart defects. Established in 2000, HeartGift has treated more than 400 children from over 34 countries. During the stay in the United States, volunteer host families provide homes for the children and their caregiver, which are typically four to six weeks.
Mongolia suspended all international flights, passenger rail, and auto traffic to and from Ulaanbaatar starting in early March of 2020 when COVID-19 was beginning to spread within the Chinese borders. Ariun and Solongo were two of the many Mongolian nationals who were stranded abroad and have requested repatriation. Fortunately, their host families helped care for them since their trips were extended. After their successful surgeries, with the help of HeartGift nonprofit foundation and their host families, Ariun and Solongo left for home on Sunday, June 28.
Khaliun Ganbaatar is a research intern in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa pursuing Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree.