BUENA PARK, Calif. — India’s ‘Little Master’ cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, renowned for his batting prowess, is now batting to give life to the 300,000 underprivileged Indian children born each year with Congenital Heart Disease. Speaking at a lunch and conversation event organized by the East West Foundation at The Yellow Chilli Restaurant here Sept. 28, he said, “It takes a heart to save a heart and a life.”

Gavaskar’s Southern California stop was part of his 10-city U.S. tour to empower the Heart to Heart Foundation that provides free heart surgeries via the Sai Sanjeevani Hospital network in India. He pointed out that 250-300 of children with CHD die every day without access to surgical care. Urging support from all present, he said, “We have pared down the extras and reduced the cost of each surgery to just $1,200.” It was noted that he himself has supported 34 life-saving surgeries to match his world record of 34 test match centuries.

Gavaskar’s current tour as chair of the Board of Governors of the Heart to Heart Foundation, along with the support of Arvind Thiagarajan, trustee and founder of HD Medical Inc.; and Mihir Gandhi, along with other philanthropists all over the U.S., has raised monies for several surgeries. The Buena Park event itself netted funding for 50 surgeries, bringing the grand total to 850 surgeries, the organizers said.

At the Sept. 28 event, Indian American donors such as Dr. Bharat Patel, Dr. Manchanda and others came forward to support the cause. Patel took his philanthropy further by offering the free services of the Indian Physician Association. Donors received a personally autographed cricket bat from Gavaskar at the event which was packed to capacity.

Thiagarajan also made a pitch for the cause and expanded on the scope of the organization, saying, “On a lighter note, India and Pakistan have been very competitive in cricket, however, it is different in the CHD world; Heart to Heart has provided free surgeries to 22 Pakistani children. The Government of Afghanistan has also invited us for talks to start a hospital there.”

Dr. Shaun Setty, a pediatric cardiac surgeon from Long Beach Memorial hospital, the first doctor who conducted the very first cardiac surgery in the Sai Sanjeevani Hospital for the Heart to Heart Foundation, spoke of his experience and how impactful it was. “Upon my approach to the hospital I saw an extremely long line of people and I thought there was some kind of event they were waiting for, but was shocked to learn that they were all families waiting for surgery for their children.

“One of the first parents I spoke to said that he carried his child on his back for the most part of 500 kilometers to reach the hospital,” he said.

The doctor added that some of the parents did not go back home after they saw their children getting better and wanted to help others in any way possible. “The concept of ‘paying it forward’ was spontaneous,” he added.

The packed hall comprised local philanthropists, ardent cricket fans, East West Foundation volunteers and, of course, Sunil Gavaskar admirers. Gavaskar did not disappoint with his approachability, heart-felt camaraderie and, above all, his sense of humor being evident from the start.

The ‘Heart to Heart’ conversation segment was received with laughter and frequent applause from the audience. To those familiar with cricket in the 70s and 80s, many of the anecdotes that Gavaskar told with a poker face were hilarious and he had the audience paying rapt attention. He answered each question asked by moderator Thiagarajan and the audience with intense honesty. Dubbing himself “vertically-challenged” due to his short height, Gavaskar also exhibited his skill at imitating his fellow teammates and had the audience in splits.

Later, Cerritos Mayor Naresh Solanki presented Gavaskar with a plaque in recognition of his services.

The Sai Sanjeevani hospital network is now being expanded to include a hospital in Kolkata and Rajasthan as well as internationally, in Sri Lanka, Fiji and Nigeria. For more information visit www.h2h.foundation.

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