For teenage adoptee Claire Worthington, what began as a senior project soon became a mission to provide lifesaving heart surgery for a little girl growing up without a family in China.
It began as a school project. A requirement. Something she had to do in order to graduate. But then 17-year-old Claire Worthington wondered, what if this could actually make a difference?
As she brainstormed topics for her senior community service project, Claire decided she wanted to do something personal — and meaningful. She had recently lost her grandmother to a heart condition. Claire is also a Chinese adoptee. So the subject of her project came to her naturally.
She decided to provide a heart surgery to a child waiting for an adoptive family in China.
“What better way to help a child,” she says, “than to help them through their heart?”
Flipping through Holt’s Gifts of Hope catalog, Claire saw that the cost of a heart repair for a child is about $3,000.
“That’s a lot of money to raise, but I wanted to undertake this challenge and raise as much as I could,” she says.
To get started, Claire researched everything she could about heart conditions, and what’s it’s like for children in orphanages who have one. She learned that among children living in impoverished communities, those who have medical conditions are far more likely to be abandoned or relinquished by their families. In many cases, their families simply don’t have the resources to provide costly medical care — and they hope that in an orphanage or with an adoptive family, their child will receive the lifesaving care they need.
But too often, this hope is baseless. Most orphanages have limited funding to provide medical care for children — especially for care as expensive as a heart surgery. If a child has a heart condition and is living in an under-resourced orphanage, a heart surgery — even a lifesaving one — may be out of reach.
That is, unless someone steps up to help.
Motivated by his heartbreaking fact, Claire launched a campaign to raise the $3,000 needed to provide heart surgery to a little boy or girl in China.
Throughout the school year, until she presented her project in the spring, Claire was hard at work. She wrote and sent letters to her family, friends and local businesses — explaining the need and how their support could help a child in China.
And over those months, the gifts began to pour in. By the spring, Claire had raised $3,805.
At the end of the year, Claire gave her presentation, One Heartbeat, Two Countries, to her class — sharing how she inspired her family and friends to help save the life of a child in China. At the time, however, she didn’t know whose life it would save.
Around that same time, in June 2019, a 1-year-old girl named Xiao Qi arrived at the Peace House, Holt’s medical group home in Beijing. Xiao Qi was weak, and she cried often. She was born with Down syndrome, as well as a heart condition.
Without surgery, and soon, she might not make it.
Right away, Holt’s staff in China made sure Claire’s gift would give Xiao Qi the lifesaving care she needed. Later in June, once she was strong enough, Xiao Qi had surgery to repair her heart condition. It was successful.
Claire didn’t know any of this as it was happening, but a month after she turned in her project, Claire learned that her gift had gone to Xiao Qi.
It had been several months since Xiao Qi’s surgery, in which time she had been cared for and nurtured back to health. At the Peace House, Xiao Qi received the attentive, one-on-one attention from a devoted caregiver she needed to heal. Her caregivers made sure she was eating and drinking enough, that the incision on her chest was healing properly, and that she had the rest and love and everything else she needed to make a full recovery. The before and after photos Claire received of Xiao Qi confirmed this.
“When I got those photos of Xiao Qi,” Claire says, “I was amazed.” In the before photos, she saw a sad and sickly-looking little girl. She also received photos of Xiao Qi right after surgery, laying in a hospital bed with bandages and tubes hooked up to her.
But the photos from several weeks later had the greatest impact on Claire.
“Oh man,” says Claire, “it was amazing.”
One photo in particular stood out to her. It’s of Xiao Qi playing at the Peace House in a frilly top with pink and blue hearts. Her wispy hair is standing straight up. And the biggest difference of all — there’s light in her eyes.
“She looks like how a 1 or 2-year-old should act like,” Claire says, “enjoying the world around her.”
Something else that amazed her was something unexpected. Claire learned that they were both from the same province in China.
“What are the odds that we’d be from the same province?” she says. “It made me feel an even bigger connection to this project.” And an extra special connection to Xiao Qi.
Once fully recovered at the Peace House, Xiao Qi went back to her orphanage. Right now, she’s waiting to be matched with a loving, permanent family through adoption. But Claire knows that because of her heart surgery, it’s much more likely that Xiao Qi will soon have a family of her own.
“At some point, it became more than a school project and requirement,” Claire says of her class project. “It actually affected someone’s life.”
Not only did the project save Xiao Qi’s life, it changed Claire’s life, too.
Although already interested in the biomedical field, when Claire saw Xiao Qi’s post-surgery transformation, it made her want to pursue it even more.
“This project really did affect my own future,” Claire says. “This project really … showed what I could potentially do in my future to help other kids.” Someday, Claire hopes to create artificial organs so that people who need a heart transplant don’t have to go on a waitlist.
Like she saw for Xiao Qi, the opportunity for medical care can change everything.
This summer, Claire and her family are traveling to China on Holt’s heritage tour for adoptees and their families. And while there, they plan to see if they can visit Xiao Qi — that is, if she hasn’t already been adopted.
“I hope she gets adopted like I did,” Claire says. Either way, Claire hopes she can meet Xiao Qi — whether that’s in China this summer, or someday in the U.S. if that’s where her adoptive family lives.
“Even if I don’t ever meet her,” Claire says, “I just hope she has a good future.”
Megan Herriott | Copywriter
Heal a Child’s Heart
Your gift this Valentine’s day will provide Zaya, and children like her, with heart surgery and other critical medical care.
What a beautiful story, Claire. I am so proud of you, proud to be your aunt. I hope you’re story inspires other young people to take on challenges such as this to change another person’s life and to motivate and change their own life as well. May God bless you in your future endeavors As you bless so many around you.