The holiday season serves as a reminder to give back for most people. For Mark Valentine, president of the Heart Hospital Baylor Plano in Plano, Texas, giving back is exactly what he has been doing.
Formerly of the Pleasant Hill area on state Route 213 in Steubenville, Valentine now lives in Murphy, Texas. He attended Catholic Central High School and transferred to the former Jefferson Union High School his sophomore year, graduating in 1986.
The Heart Hospital is the largest physician-owned cardiovascular specialty hospital in the United States and the ninth largest heart valve surgery program in the nation. The hospital has won five national Summit Awards presented by Press Ganey for guest satisfaction since 2007.
Valentine said he had the privilege to be involved with a medical mission called Pacific Islands Medical Aid Inc., which is led by Carlton Smith, president of the organization.
"One of our cardiologists at the Heart Hospital named Alistair Fyfe recommended that we could change the lives of so many people by doing what we do best, which is mending broken and sick hearts," said Valentine.
He said he was intrigued by the notion that what he did each day in his role at the Heart Hospital could be so impactful to a small pacific barrier island between Hawaii and Australia, and 5,000 miles away from Texas.
Christmas Island contains a population of underserved young men and women who have been stricken with rheumatic fever in their lives, which severely damages the valve in their heart, according to Valentine.
He said that after spending some time with Smith and Fyfe, Valentine was convinced that the hospital and the entire medical team could help.
"Our first mission occurred three years ago. We coordinated over 24 young men and women, with the help of Pacific Island Medical Aid Inc., to travel from Christmas Island to Plano, Texas, for a cardiovascular evaluation and heart surgery to repair their heart valves," said Valentine.
All 24 surgeries were successful, according to Valentine, and after a brief stay in Texas, the visitors from the island were chartered back home.
The following year, two nurses from the hospital accompanied Fyfe and a team back to the island and evaluated more than 500 residents over a week's time, Valentine said.
"Since that time, enough financial aid and support has occurred to build a hut-style 10-bed hospital to serve the basic needs of the island," said Valentine.
This year the hospital again coordinated for six Christmas Island residents to come to the hospital for heart surgery, and again all surgeries were successful. Valentine said that all of the guests were overjoyed to plan their bright, now healthy, futures.
"I can't express enough the feeling that I had, to be able to impact so many lives from an island I couldn't even point out on a map, and to be able to leave such a lasting impression on their lives as well as mine," said Valentine.
"This was my special gift to them - a kind, simple gesture of help and support that we in America accept as a basic necessity to live, but to residents of Christmas Island it was life-changing," said Valentine.
Rhonda and Bobby Valentine, his mother and father, formerly of Steubenville but now residing in Wylie, Texas, said their son was "instrumental" in getting the help for these people from Christmas Island.
They mentioned he also is involved in Living for Zachary, a charity centered around Zachary Schrah, a Plano East Panther football player, who died of sudden cardiac arrest during a typical workout at practice.
"I guess you could say Mark is a hometown boy who gives 100 percent. As his parents, we are very proud of the work that he is doing and I'm sure Steubenville is proud of him, too," said Rhonda Valentine.
"Christmas is a time for miracles and Mark's hospital brings those miracles to life," she said.
(Kins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)