Making a Difference for Children in the Dominican Republic

Tony-Ruiz

Tony is a Senior Researcher based in Nielsen’s New York City office. This fall, Tony used his 24 hours of Dedicated Volunteer Time from Nielsen Cares toward a medical mission with the International Children’s Heart Foundation in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His work helped him break out of his comfort zone and learn new career skills.

Through Nielsen Cares, we each have the unique privilege of using 24 hours each year to volunteer during normal business hours. I first heard about this in 2015, but seeing it mentioned in regular emails from our Employee Resource Group, Hispanic Organization Leaders in Action (HOLA), helped keep it on my mind. So I decided to use those hours and some vacation days toward a medical mission with the International Children’s Heart Foundation (ICHF) in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in the fall of 2016. In addition to believing in the ICHF’s mission, the organization has special meaning to me.

When I was 10, I was diagnosed with a life-threatening congenital heart condition and I couldn’t do a lot of normal kid things that increase your heart rate, like play sports, watch scary movies or ride roller coasters. But I had the privilege of having a surgical procedure to fix it. I was moved by ICHF, which performs pediatric cardiac surgeries and educates local medical staff in regions where the necessary expertise is rare. They help kids lead normal, happy, healthy lives, and that’s why I chose to collaborate with them.

While in Santo Domingo, I helped perform open heart surgery on infants and kids. I’m kidding. I’m pretty sure I can’t tell apart a scalpel from a butter knife. In reality, I was there to create images and stories for new marketing materials to boost donor engagement.

Over six days, we created hundreds of images for ICHF’s marketing efforts, conveying the cautious optimism of patients’ families, the drama of the operating room, the collaboration between volunteers and local medical staff, and the tender moments throughout the entire patient experience. I also composed short stories on the first few open-heart surgery patients.

But my work in Santo Domingo produced more than just images and stories, and I had an opportunity to exercise more than my photography and editing skills, neither of which I use in my day job at Nielsen. The experience helped me break out of my comfort zone, and I learned that the more I do this, the easier it becomes. In my case, I flew to a place I’d never been, with people I’d never met, for an assignment that was difficult because of the subject matter, language, and the sheer volume of work. And I had committed to staying for a week! It was scary. But I’m convinced that experiences like this chip away at our fears and insecurities, and they make us braver and more confident in life and work.