A USC student and professor were recognized this weekend for their work helping children receive life-saving heart surgery in developing countries.
Rachel Lester, a senior majoring in cognitive science, received The Save A Child’s Heart Foundation’s Young Leadership Award Sunday at the foundation’s third annual West Coast gala. Carol and Gary Winkler presented the award to Lester, whose video “Superman’s Got Nothing On Israel,” featuring Save A Child’s Heart, won first place in the international Israel Video Network contest in March.
Save A Child’s Heart is an international nonprofit organization located at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon, Israel. The foundation provides cardiac surgery to children who may not otherwise be able to afford it. To date, the organization has saved the lives of over 3,400 children from Africa, South America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Lester first heard about the organization as a freshman, when SC Students For Israel, a club she was involved in, hosted a fundraiser for SACH. She officially joined one and a half years later.
“I took fall semester of sophomore year off to volunteer on Israeli army bases, and while I was there, I started hearing about SACH again,” Lester said. “Since I had already been feeling like I wanted a change of pace from my program, I made the spur-of-the-moment decision to contact SACH about volunteering with them. A week later, I was living in the house with 16 Ethiopian and Tanzanian kids.”
Lester also spent a week as a live-in volunteer at the SACH house in 2014, an experience she has cherished ever since.
“It was one of the best weeks of my whole life,” Lester said. “The kids were so kind to each other and to me.”
The second USC honoree was professor Brandy Hattendorf, who received the International Humanitarian Award. Hattendorf serves as a board member for the SACH West Coast Advisory committee, and is working with the SACH Israeli team to create American/Israeli medical teams and expand the SACH international efforts.
Isabel Shanahan, who works with Save A Child’s Heart as a public relations representative, spoke about the two USC honorees and their work for the organization, as well as how other USC students can get involved with the organization.
“The organization selected them for the amazing work they have done,” Shanahan said. “Hattendorf has worked with the patients for years, and Rachel … is such a great advocate. USC students can get involved by going online to Save A Child’s Heart’s website and just contacting them and going to their events.”
Nancy Pardo, who serves as the West Coast Young Leadership Director for SACH, said Lester’s hands-on volunteering efforts in Israel as well as Hattendorf’s work at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles made them ideal candidates for the awards they received.
“Lester has been involved with the organization for years,” Pardo said. “We met with her and were in awe with her accomplishments. Hattendorf … was a superb person to be honored.”
Additionally, the Compassionate Heart Award was presented to actor and comedian Jamie Kennedy for speaking out about his own heart health issues.
Correction: A previous version of this article contained errors. It stated that Rachel Lester was presented the Lauren Winkler National Young Leadership award by Chloe Lukasiak. She received it from Carol and Gary Winkler. Lester also did not join SACH her freshman year, but officially got involved a year and a half later. Finally, Isabel Shanahan has not personally worked with SACH for three years.