(As The Rotary Club of the Pelhams proudly celebrates its 70th year of placing “Service Above Self”, we are reminded that one of its missions includes providing life-saving initiatives to children. The Gift of Life Program provides the process where a child from a disadvantaged country in need of life-saving surgery is brought to the U.S. and is the guest of a Pelham Rotarian, waiting for, preparing for, and then recuperating from surgery. This October, Rotarian Frank Tripodi and his wife Bernadette were the hosts for a 3-year old Nigerian patient named Bright (in crucial need of a heart operation) and her dad Jonathan. The operation was a success at Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. She is now recuperating and ready to return home. This is the Tripodi family’s remarkable story of their journey with a “Miracle Called Bright – JN)

Bright and her father Jonathan entered into our life not knowing what to expect from a country they have only read about.  A 30-hour journey to end the struggles a family had endured for three years.  It is important to mention the struggle this family had to encounter to get their daughter the proper care and treatment.  They sold all of their personal belongings, borrowed money from everyone they knew and were behind three years in their rent.  The only reason why people didn’t ask for the money that was owed to them was Bright, a little girl who could light up a room with her smile and warm your heart with her story.  She was born with a serious heart defect and the family had attempted everything possible to get her treated, from herbal medicine, witchery, to conventional medical treatments.  The common barrier was money.  Something they have very little of, or none.

Jonathan tells of how they very often only had enough food for his wife and three children and he didn’t eat for days.  The five of them living in an 8 x 10 foot room, with no indoor plumbing and power that sporadically came on for 30 minutes at a time every 8 to 10 days was commonplace.  Upon their arrival to the US, they were quiet and very respectful of the unknown.  One of the first questions he asked was, “When does the power go off?”  We explained to him that when you turn of the switch the light will go off, and he broke out into laughter saying only the way he could say it, “Beautiful, very very beautiful.  America great country”.

My first real encounter with Bright at home was when she came to me crying and saying, “I hungry, I eat rice”.  Needless to say it broke our heart and we promised her anything she wanted.  Thus our journey began.  The food they ate was very often explained to them, and how to consume it was another topic.  After several days I deciphered Jonathan’s code.  If he said the food was, excellent, wonderful, or very very good, he liked it.  If we got just an “OK”, that meant he didn’t like it but finished it for fearing to insult us by not eating it.   Bright ate everything the first couple of days, her favorite being Teddy Graham Crackers as she calls, “biscuits” Her drink was Gatorade or “apple juice” as she identified it and “wah-tah” (water).

The Moms of Pelham stepped up and adopted this little girl and her father without hesitation and reservation.  Clothing for the both of them was donated, toys for Bright and her brothers, and money.  Bernadette decided after hearing the many hours of Jonathan and Bright challenges to start a “Go Fund Me“ page.  To date we have raised over $6000 for them.  The money was wired to Jonathan’s wife so she could pay off their debts, get their children enrolled back in school and as he put it walk around the village with her head held high for the first time in years.

Bright had exhaustive surgery to repair her heart.  The original estimate was 6 to 7 hours but it took 15 hours to accomplish the repair.  Prior to surgery Bright labored in her breathing. The norm was for her to walk a few feet then asked to be carried because she no longer could breathe comfortably.  Her lips were blue and her fingernails were the same color.  She would curl up in a ball and try to regain her breath and cry due to fear and exhaustion.  We had to learn how to carry her to help her breath and it would take longer each time for her to stabilize.

The surgery was more than successful in many ways.  Her lips and fingernails are now pink, she has learned how to run around the house without getting tired or out of breath, and she is now a “real” 3-year-old, full of energy and wonderment.  Her family is very happy and her outlook is great.  The surgeons did an exceptional job.  Their hard work and forethought will allow Bright to have her next surgery in 10 to 15 years and then it may be done through the groin as opposed to serious invasive surgery that was just completed.

They are a part of our family.  They help with the cooking, Jonathan doing small tasks and Bright sitting on the counter supervising with an occasional request to taste the product.  Jonathan is happy when he is helping.  Taking out the trash is his job and doing the dishes even if we tell him to use the dishwasher.  Any time we attempt to do either he jumps up and takes it from us and thanks us for letting him do it.  Everyday both Jonathan and Bright thank us for “yesterday” and blesses us.  We pray before each meal, and dinner conversations are very interesting.  Covering all topics and Bright telling everyone “I yike this’ or “ I no yike” Her common request is “beans” A funny story: we went to Rockwell’s for dinner one evening and Bright knew enough to speak to the waitress about her food order and asked for “beans”.   We were informed they didn’t have any but that didn’t stop her from asking several more times during dinner.  She ate her food and in the car on the way home she declared, “We go someplace now who has beans”.  Laughter is very commonplace due to her and her father’s nature.  They have come to enjoy watching hockey with “Daddy Frank” and cartoons and movies with “Mommy”.   They both are very proficient on the IPAD now and are constantly using one to entertain themselves.  Bright video chats with our three daughters (who are in different parts of the country) all the time and asks “Where you dog?”. Since we have two dogs, and one daughter had two dogs, she thinks everyone has dogs.   Even Jonathan sticks his head in on the conversations and asks about their day.

I could go on and on about the wonderful times we have had. We are the fortunate ones to have had the opportunity to host Bright and Jonathan. Pictures of the two of them are frequent and Bright always asks when doing taking them, “see me” and we are rewarded with a huge smile and an instant review of all the pictures we have taken to date. We are thinking of how we can keep in touch after they go home.  We have bought them solar powered radios, flashlight, and lights to help them fight the darkness. Jonathan got glasses for the first time and was shouting with joy that he can see and thanked us for making him the most important man in his village now he has glasses.  Bright has a wardrobe of fashionable attire and Jonathan for the first time in his life has more than one pair of shoes to choose from.

Thanks to the Rotary Club of the Pelhams and the Gift of Life Program for allowing us to participate in this wonderful journey.  We can’t begin to tell you how much our life has changed.  Our thinking, expectations and even our thought process have been altered for the good.  Taking things for granted is no longer going to be the norm at our household.  Jonathan and Bright have given us a new lease on life.  That is what they tell us the Gift of Life and the Rotary did for them, but they have it reversed: we are the fortunate ones.  We are going to miss them very much.

Bernadette & Frank Tripodi


Bright and her dad Jonathan, in between Frank and Bernadette Tripodi
Bright feeling better in the hospital
Bright recuperating at the Tripodi’s home in Pelham