TYLER, Texas (ABP) — One volunteer can make a life-or-death difference for a child, especially if that volunteer happens to be a retired physician.
Though Richard Hurst of Tyler, Texas, had been volunteering alongside missions field personnel for 10 years, it was in June 2004, when he volunteered in the Balkans, that his visit changed lives, especially for a young Macedonian boy named Denis.
Hurst, a retired physician, was working with field personnel Martha and Rick Shaw of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship when they were made aware of Denis by a Nigerian missionary. They were told the boy in the rural village of Tsrni Bregovi in the Republic of Macedonia needed medical attention for a heart condition. So Shaw made arrangements for Hurst to travel to examine the boy.
“Denis is a Roma-Albanian boy from a very poor and neglected family in the backwaters of the Balkans,” Shaw said. “Within his village, there are 11 other children with congenital diseases.”
They met 9-year-old Denis the next day in a house with a dirt floor. Hurst described Denis as small and thin with sad eyes. His lips and fingernails were blue because of poorly oxygenated blood. He had been born with a congenital heart defect and could not run and play like a normal child. He was not expected to live past 10 years of age.
“Denis was short of breath from just walking across the room,” Hurst recalled.
Upon examining Denis, Hurst suspected he had a systolic heart murmur, causing most of his blood to bypass his lungs. He needed surgery to save his life.
Touched by the encounter, Hurst was determined to get Denis the surgery he needed. Because no pediatric cardiovascular services were nearby, Hurst had to raise $10,000 for Denis to travel to Sofia, Bulgaria, for the operation. With the help of family, friends, church members and his community in Tyler, Hurst was able to raise the money for Denis' surgery within a few months.
“A good number of church members did give generously,” Hurst said. “Using e-mail and personal contacts, $6,000 was raised by October. Then the editor of the Tyler paper ran a page-and-half story on Denis, and the $10,000 was in.”
In February, Denis and his mother were escorted to a clinic in Sofia, where Denis underwent successful heart surgery.
“One of the delights of being a missionary is moments like this,” said Shaw, upon visiting and praying with Denis and his mother in the hospital.
Denis returned home March 2, where his fellow villagers praised God to see him return healthy and to know he will now live a long and healthy life, Shaw said.