Bears Fund 4-Yr-Old’s Flight For Heart Operation

We trash pro sports because it’s fun, and they do have more money than God, but occasionally it’s nice to recognize leagues and athletes when they give back. So it’s great to be able to type this sentence: On a recent NFL goodwill trip to Nigeria, two Chicago Bears players reached into their own pockets to help save a young girl’s life.

Adewale Ogunleye

The Bears’ Adewale Ogunleye and Israel Idonije met a woman whose 4-year-old daughter was born with a hole in her heart, and needed surgery to survive. An organization called Heart Gift agreed to perform the operation on the little girl and would pay for everything - except the flight from Lagos, Nigeria, to Austin Texas, which can cost from $2,500 to $5,000 per person. The surgery was about to be canceled because the mother couldn’t raise enough money for the flight.

Enter Adewale & Israel.

Ogunleye heard about the girl from local media reports during his 10-day trip to Nigeria, along with other NFLers like Osi Umenyiora and Nnamdi Asomugha. He contacted his sister, a Nigerian congresswoman, to get in touch with the family. After checking out the story, he and Idonije split the airfare costs. The mother was so thankful, she fell to the ground in front of him.


“I had to ask this kind lady to please get up, I was getting embarrassed,” Ogunleye recalled Thursday. “She was so grateful.”

That’s just one of the lives saved on the trip, which included doctors and nurses.

“I saw two persons’ lives saved just because they came to the clinics and, in one case, someone discovered a blood-sugar level that was near-death,” Ogunleye said. “We’d see women whose pre-natal care was out of control and gave them medicine. You wouldn’t believe some of the stories or what it’s like there.”

The players helped dig wells, and distributed 20 scholarships to local children. And they even taught a little football, not that Nigerians have much concept of it.

“They knew we might have had some celebrity status [back home in our NFL cities] but maybe weren’t sure why,” Ogunleye said. “It didn’t matter.”