Kamar de los Reyes (Antonio) has been a very busy man this year. Not only has he been involved in ONE LIFE TO LIVE’s front burner Santi storyline, but he’s been working just as hard on an outside commitment: The Gabriel Project.
For the past 14 years The Gabriel Project, founded and run by sixth-grade teacher Mark Melamed, has brought African babies to the United States for life-saving heart surgery. Last year, OLTL’s Fiona Hutchison (ex-Gabrielle) traveled to Africa with the project. When she returned she got de los Reyes hooked on helping the children. WEEKLY interviewed de los Reyes when he returned and again with Melamed when this year’s child, Loveness, was about to return to Tanzania, following a successful surgery. (Part of this interview ran in the Aug. 17 issue of Soap Opera Weekly).
Soap Opera Weekly: Tell me about the trip. Was it what you thought it would be?
Kamar De Los Reyes: It was everything I thought it was going to be and more. A life-changing experience. It was probably one of the most important things I’ve done in my life, to be able to bring back this child and ultimately be part of saving her life. It was a pretty amazing feeling. I’ve decided to make this a life mission, to try and get this on a larger scale. To get it out there and be able to bring over more than one child in a year. We met with the head of the health ministry and they ultimately pledged that they would send 20 children over next year, so we got the ball rolling. We’ve got our work cut out for us as far as raising funds, but we’re pretty excited about it.
Weekly: Wow, that’s huge: To go from one to 20.
De Los Reyes: Obviously we won’t bring them over all at once. If we could bring two every month, it would be quite an accomplishment. Our goal is to eventually be out of business. What the Gabriel Project would really like to do would be to bring the doctors here and train them. Offer them the knowledge and provide the technology and facilities to provide the procedure there in Tanzania, and then move on to one of the other 75 countries that doesn’t offer this procedure. Weekly: What exactly is the procedure?
De Los Reyes: It’s a very common ailment, they are born with a hole in their heart. Here, it’s an in-and-out procedure, basically. It’s done when they’re born. It’s a very common procedure, but they just don’t offer it there, so the children ultimately will die from it if they don’t get it.
Weekly: Tell me how Fiona got you involved?
De Los Reyes: Fiona was the one who introduced me to Mark, and she was with the first group of actors that had gone with Mark. In the past years he had gone on his own. He’s quite an amazing man. He’s pretty much done this on his own for the last 15 years. His students help him raise money every year.
Weekly: I know you are also involved in the fundraising, and had an event at a NYC club earlier this summer.
De Los Reyes: Yeah I did, it went really well. I plan on having a few more. I believe we made close to $8,000. It was a lot of fun. So we’re going to try and keep doing them.
Ten days later, Weekly went to OLTL’s studio to catch up with de los Reyes and to meet Loveness and Melamed. Loveness looked remarkably well considering her surgery was done 11 days prior.
Weekly: How did the surgery go?
Mark Melamed: Her surgery was on July 15, and she was out of intensive care within two days. Her breathing tube was removed that first night and she’s doing beautifully. Ready to go home just 11 days after open-heart surgery. Her birthday was a day before the surgery. She turned a year old.
Weekly: Kamar, is this the first time you’ve seen her since the surgery?
De Los Reyes: Yes. It’s unbelievable. She’s so resilient, so strong and powerful. It’s awesome to see her happy and healthy and it’s good to know that she’s going to live a long life.Weekly: When we spoke before you said you’d like to return in August to return with her. But here it is, still July, and she’s going back.
De Los Reyes: Yeah, unfortunately I am not going to be able to go back to take her. If she went back in August I would have possibly been able to go, but now I can’t. So next year, hopefully.
Weekly: But that’s very good for her.
De Los Reyes: Yeah, very good for her and the father that is over there waiting for them, I’m sure he’s very happy and can’t wait to see them.
Weekly: Mark, I know Jackie Zeman (Bobbie, GENERAL HOSPITAL) also went on the trip this year. And last year Fiona Hutchison and Ricky Paull Goldin (Gus, GUIDING LIGHT) went. How did you get the daytime community involved?
Melamed: I just wrote a letter to everybody. I explained what we were doing with my students. I said our school would do a celebrity auction so I asked if they would donate something: a script, a shirt… Jackie said she’d like to help and for 14 years she’s been supporting us. A lot of people sent things to us, which has been really nice. Somewhere down the line Ricky Paull called and said, “I’d like to be more involved.” Greg Vaughan (Lucky, GENERAL HOSPITAL) is coming on board now, he might come with us next year to Africa. I met him the other day at Kamar’s house. He did an event and he raised $1000 for it, just from a hearing about it. The actors been wonderful, just wonderful.
To learn more about The Gabriel Project, or to make a donation, go to www.the gabrielproject.com.