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zaya poses with social worker before heart surgery

Zaya never even knew she had a heart condition until she was 10 years old. But once she was diagnosed at her orphanage in Mongolia, she needed a heart surgery right away. And thanks to the generosity of Holt donors, she got the lifesaving medical care she needed.

At 10 years old, Zaya had never been to a doctor before.

But last year she had a medical examination at her orphanage, and got some bad and surprising news. She had a heart condition.

This diagnosis was just another life-altering, difficult event for Zaya in a string of other life-altering and difficult events. She had grown up in poverty, but her family life had been mostly stable. All until a few years ago…

Zaya lived with her mom, dad, two little sisters and one little brother just outside of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. But in summer 2019 her mother passed away. And then a year later, her father went to prison.

In the span of a little of a year, Zaya’s entire life changed. She became a “half-orphan,” the term for a child who loses one parent. And then, although he was still alive, she lost her father too. Zaya and her siblings found themselves all on their own. They had no other family to care for them.

siblings in Mongolia
Zaya (back, center) with her three siblings.

So they went to live at a Holt-supported orphanage in Ulaanbaatar. This became their home — their safe place to live where they had a warm bed, nutritious meals, the chance to go to school and receive medical care.

Shortly after Zaya arrived at the orphanage, a group of volunteers from a nearby hospital came to give medical checkups to all of the children. When a child first comes into orphanage care, it’s common for them to be malnourished, iron deficient or sick from hygiene or neglect-related issues. This is what the team of doctors and nurses expected to find in most of the children. But then it was Zaya’s turn for an examination. And what they found surprised them.

Zaya had a heart condition — something called post occlude patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA.

This condition is almost always caught at birth. But it wasn’t for Zaya. Her family lived in poverty and couldn’t afford to take her to the doctor, so she was never diagnosed. In fact, orphanage staff searched medical records and found that Zaya had never even been examined by a doctor. But her heart condition was very serious. Without treatment, and as she continued to grow, Zaya would be in great danger of heart infections, and eventually heart failure. Without treatment, her life was in danger.  

Zaya needed a surgery to repair her heart. But a heart surgery was well outside the scope of the type of medical care her orphanage could afford. That’s why Zaya’s orphanage reached out to Holt, asking for help.

Over the years, Holt donors have helped children receive cleft lip and palate surgeries, critical pre- and post-op care, treatment for malnutrition and so much more. And every year on Valentine’s Day, there’s a special campaign just for children with heart conditions. Last year, two boys in China received critical heart surgery — and today they are fully recovered and thriving.

The timing for this year couldn’t have been more perfect. On Valentine’s Day 2022, “heart day,” Holt donors came together to raise over $30,000 to help Zaya and other children like her. A 10-year-old adoptee and her family even gave a matching gift to help pull together all the funds. This was more than enough to give Zaya the lifesaving heart surgery she needed, and provide similar heart treatment and lifesaving care to other children in Holt’s programs.

Zaya after receiving her successful heart surgery.

Finally, after 10 years, Zaya could receive the lifesaving treatment she needed.

Zaya visited a cardiologist in Ulaanbaatar, and scheduled her heart surgery for as soon as possible.

She received her surgery within months, and it was a success! Today she’s recovering well, and on her way to full health.

When she learned that Holt donors helped provide her surgery, she filmed a video to share with them. Even though she’s shy and reserved, she was eager to share this message:

“Thank you to all of the kind-hearted people at Holt who made it possible for me to get my urgently needed heart surgery. I promise to study hard, be a good person, and take good care of my younger siblings.” 

“Thank you to all the kind-hearted people at Holt who made it possible for me to get my urgently needed heart surgery.”


Despite a really difficult past couple of years, Zaya no longer has to fear for her health. She continues to live in the orphanage together with her siblings, where they are safe and well taken care of. Holt Mongolia staff is seeking a long-term solution for them, hopefully to unite with relatives who can give them the love and care they need as they grow up.

zaya poses happily before receiving her heart surgery

But until then, Zaya knows that there are kind-hearted people near and far who care for her — who were there to heal her heart.

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woman carrying for children during lunch in Mongolian orphanage

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