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Kayla Billington has made it her mission to help provide life-saving heart surgeries for children in Uganda.
We honor Billington as the Nurse of the Week for providing heart surgeries and hope to children in Uganda.
Billington knew she wanted to become a pediatric nurse after surviving a rare form of cancer as a teenager. Now, as an RN, she cares for some of the most critically ill children in the neonatal intensive care unit at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland.
“I felt in any way if I could go on and help kids, that that’s what I wanted to do,” she says.
But a heartbreaking truth expanded her mission.
“I treat children all the time. Even if their parents can’t afford their care, they’re never denied. That’s not the case in Uganda,” she says.
Billington was volunteering at a children’s hospital in Uganda in 2016 when she met Patrick, a two-and-a-half-year-old boy she called Paty. Tests confirmed he had Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare condition with four heart defects, but doctors gave no hope for corrective surgery.
“They just looked at me and said solemnly, ‘We don’t do these kinds of heart repairs here in Uganda,’” Billington says. “I was devastated. I had already fallen in love with him, and to think that there was no hope, no options for him. We just had to sit and wait for him to die. It was unbearable. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat.”
But Billington was determined that she would arrange the surgery Paty needed.
After working out a plan for nearly two years, Billington finally brought him to a Kentucky hospital for surgery, free of charge. But by then, his heart was too weak for the operation. He died in her arms at her home.
“While holding him, I told him his death was not for nothing and that I would take care of his family. And I’d make sure people remember his name and story.”
So Billington started the nonprofit Paty’s Project in 2019, and since then, it has provided four heart surgeries for Ugandan children.
One of those operations was for Paty’s sister, who also had a heart defect.
Doctors performed three other surgeries in India through a partnership with the nonprofit, Healing the Children in Wisconsin.
Doctors performed three other surgeries in India through a partnership with the nonprofit, Healing the Children, in Wisconsin.
Billington raises between $4,000 and $10,000 in travel-related costs per patient, funded by generous donors like colleague Helen Kim.
“She’s a beautiful person that would move the world to help anyone else, especially kids,” says Kim, who’s also a nurse at Kaiser Oakland’s NICU.
And when Billington hears how the surgeries are changing lives allowing children to go to school and play, her heart is full.
“It’s knowing these kids now have a chance at life and a chance to be kids,” she says.
Billington also kept her promise to provide for Paty’s family by raising money and bought a plot of land in Uganda that his mother farms to support his four siblings.
She has two heart surgeries scheduled in India in spring 2023, and another 20 children are waiting for heart surgery.
Learn more or find out how you can help Paty’s Project here.
Nominate a Nurse of the Week! Every Wednesday, DailyNurse.com features a nurse making a difference in the lives of their patients, students, and colleagues. We encourage you to nominate a nurse who has impacted your life as the next Nurse of the Week, and we’ll feature them online and in our weekly newsletter.