Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr. greeted 10-month-old Ashlee Mae Tan from Pampanga, Philippines, and her mother May Joy Dela Peña before Ashlee Mae’s discharge from The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx on Sept. 22 following open heart surgery.

Rotary International’s Gift of Life Program has saved another Filipino child following a successful open heart surgery to repair a serious congenital heart defect.

Ten-month-old Ashlee Mae Tan was flown to New York City on Aug. 31 by the Gift of Life for an emergency operation to correct her defect known as tetralogy of fallot at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx.

The toddler was accompanied by her mother, May Joy Dela Peña, 23.

The little girl went under the knife for about 10 hours on Sept. 14, with a large team of doctors and nurses who volunteered their time and effort to repair two holes in her heart and the narrowing of her two arteries, among other things.

Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr. and Lou del Rosario, vice president of Gift of Life, met Ashlee and her mother on the day the kid was discharged from the hospital on Sept. 22.

Both de Leon and del Rosario expressed gratitude for the generosity and kindness of the hospital and its medical staff for helping Ashlee and several other children from the Philippines.

Among The Children’s Hospital’s most famous patients are the formerly conjoined twins Carl and Clarence Aguirre of Bacolod, Philippines, whose conjoined heads were successfully separated by Montefiore doctors in 2003.

Meanwhile, Ashlee and her mom are temporarily staying at the Paramus, N.J. residence of real estate developers Lloyd and Helen Astmann, both active Rotarians.

The mother and daughter will be there until the next coming days until Ashlee is prepared to return home.

Waiting for them in Angeles City are Ashlee’s father, who is a machine operator, and her two older siblings.

The Astmanns told the Filipino Reporter that this is the first time they hosted a Gift of Life patient, and “its a wonderful feeling.”

Lloyd Astmann, a former president of Rotary Club Paramus, said the mother and daughter are a delight to be with.

“They have become a part of our family,” he said.

“We will definitely miss them when they return to the Philippines.”

Lloyd added that he and his wife decided to open their home to Ashlee to celebrate the memory of his mother, Millie Astmann, who passed away in January 2010.

Helen said Joy is a good cook and that the two of them have been sharing recipes.

She said they will show them around New York City before they leave for Manila.

“We are so happy Ashlee got the life-saving surgery which her family won’t be able to afford back home,” Helen said.

“That kind of surgery is outrageously expensive especially with today’s cost of surgery.”

Joy told the Reporter her family has sought help from some 60 foundations they found on Google until Gift of Life responded to their e-mail.

Talagang malaki ang pasasalamat namin sa Gift of Life,” said Joy, a stay-at-home mother.

She said it was the Gift of Life who wrote the Philippine Embassy in Manila to grant them visa on humanitarian grounds.

“The embassy people approved our visa right away when they saw Ashlee,” Joy recalled.

“They saw my daughter’s lips and nails were dark blue, almost black, at naawa sila.”

“What everyone did for Ashlee is not just life-saving,” Joy added.

“It’s also life-changing. And we’re just glad there are so many kind-hearted people in this world.”


Consul General Mario de Leon, Jr. (center) with 10-month-old Ashlee Mae Tan before she was discharged from The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx on Sept. 22. In photo are (from left) Lou del Rosario, vice chairman, Rotary Gift of Life; Dr. Scott Ceresnak, Montefiore pediatric cardiologist; Mr. de Leon; May Joy Dela Peña and her daughter Ashlee; and Helen Astmann, Rotary Gift of Life.

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