Franklin Graham’s daughter takes key role in medical reality show

There isn’t a shortage of medical shows on network television. Cable television also has a decent amount of medical reality shows. But a Christian medical reality show which also highlights people coming into a relationship with Christ? That would be a first. And that ultimately is the goal of Cissie Graham Lynch. She is legendary evangelist Billy Graham’s granddaughter and the daughter of Samaritan’s Purse CEO Franklin Graham. A pilot for “Children’s Heart” was posted on the Samaritan’s Purse Website as of Wednesday. The aim from a media standpoint is for it to get picked up by a cable network. The goal from a spiritual standpoint is to show deep Christian compassion up close and personal. The show is an outgrowth of the ministry’s Children’s Heart Project, which has brought 570 international children since 1997 to the United States for lifesaving surgeries. Children potentially needing surgeries are pre-screened by doctors through ministry offices in countries where Samaritan’s Purse works. The process can then begin of working directly with families, which for some results in a trip halfway around the world to an American hospital. “When children are accepted into the program, the question often comes up on the part of the families about, ‘Why are you helping us?’” Graham Lynch said. “When you do quality work and put your arms out with love, you can explain God loves them and loves us and that is why we are doing it for them. Some are more open than others.” In Graham Lynch’s case, she had the opportunity to work with the heart project on a required internship for her graduation from Appalachian State University. Her destination was the windswept Gobi Desert of Mongolia where a young girl and two boys had been identified with heart defects which couldn’t otherwise be surgically repaired in their homeland. A former Communist state, Mongolia is a young parliamentary democracy. Theologically its background is primarily Buddhist. “Mongolia isn’t a place I had ever been before and not a place many Americans know much about,” Graham Lynch said. “I was personally shocked to meet people so excited about hearing about the Gospel for the first time. Where we went there were groups of nomadic herdsmen out in the desert. It was incredible.” A young girl, Toggie, and two older boys traveled from Mongolia to San Antonio where the operations were done. All three children had Tetralogy of Fallot, a combination of four heart defects when untreated prove fatal. Varying results with pediatric heart troubles are scenarios Cindy Bonsall, Director of the Children’s Heart Project, has seen play out numerous times. Bonsall is a physician assistant in cardiovascular surgery and emergency medicine by trade. She has been director of the heart project for six years and has seen plenty of cases which didn’t turn out as well as those for the Mongolian children. “In the U.S., these kids are identified right after birth and have surgery in the first week of life to address the problem,” Bonsall explained. “That is why it’s not something you see here. When you travel to some of these countries, you see blue kids and purple kids all the time. It’s tragic.” By purple and blue kids, Bonsall is referring to the appearance of children’s skin tone muted by a lack of oxygenated blood. This often causes constant illness and fatigue leading to poor school attendance and little activity. Ultimately, such heart defects lead to death by 12 years old for children in countries where appropriate care is unavailable. In some cases, Bonsall said they have had to tell parents the horrible news that their child’s defect has progressed to a point where it can’t be addressed by surgery. “For you and me, we have blood that is saturated by oxygen between 98 and 100 percent,” she said. “For some of these kids they have between 60 and 80 percent oxygenated blood, so they’re obviously not getting the oxygen they need to their blood tissues to function normally.” The ending for the Mongolian children in the pilot episode is not as dire. The children were in Texas for six weeks before, during and after surgery. They stayed with host families from San Antonio’s Calvary Chapel, which responded to a Samaritan’s Purse search. The children returned home to Mongolia about a year ago and remain healthy, Graham Lynch said. The time in the U.S. afforded opportunities for physical recovery and spiritual development. “Baptism (of the children) was the most rewarding part,” Graham Lynch said. “Seeing these families come to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is the biggest gift we can offer. It’s bigger than the heart surgery in that they will experience eternity in heaven they may never have had otherwise.” Personal anecdotes for Bonsall, Graham Lynch Bonsall came to the program in part because of her own struggles with a multi-faceted blood disorder with took years of treatment and perseverance to overcome. “I could feel myself slipping away and it really put into focus what is important in life, the love of your family and your relationship with God and living for Him,” she said. Through the arduous process, which included twice-daily IVs for 12 years, Bonsall committed her personal and professional lives to her faith. “When I look back on that time, the Lord gave me Himself and I surrendered completely to His will in my life,” she said. “While I didn’t have the same heart problems some of the children do, I had a lot of the same fatigue and struggles. It helps me sympathize and work with them with a passion and drive to treat them.” For Graham Lynch, she has never known life outside the spotlight often cast on her famous family. “Growing up as Billy Graham’s granddaughter and Franklin Graham’s daughter, I just didn’t know anything different, they’re my family,” she explained. “As I’ve grown older and seen the amazing impact both have made on this world. I thank the Lord for a mother who loves Jesus Christ and who never compromises the Gospel and for a father who honors the Lord in the things he has to give. “It’s not always easy to say your sole purpose on Earth is to glorify the Kingdom and to live that out. I’m thankful every day for such an amazing example.” She also cited a recent festival preaching trip to Estonia which included stops in Jordan and Greece. The Estonia stop drew 30,000 people over three days. “Estonia was great,” she said. “Every time I’m with my dad we just keep moving. I’m so young and I can’t keep up with him.” Her exposure to fame is also beneficial to her personal life. She is married to Corey Lynch, a second-year safety for the Cincinnati Bengals of the National Football League. Lynch’s claim to fame in college was a late-game punt block that helped secure a 2007 Appalachian State defeat at perennial powerhouse Michigan, widely considered the greatest upset in recent college football history. “I was there for that game and my dad was sitting on the sidelines,” Graham Lynch said. “The Lord has blessed me and my husband from the start with the excitement of being drafted. The Lord has given us as a job to have an awesome career to glorify His Kingdom.” Links: “Children’s Heart” trailer and pilot: Tetralogy of Fallot details: CIA World Factbook information on Mongolia:

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