Kosovo boy gets life-saving heart surgery on Long Island

Erblin Sllamniku's smile and laugh are contagious. The 6-year-old from Kosovo was born with a life-threatening congenital heart defect that doctors say made him too tired to play like most kids his age. He is feeling much better these days.

"He had a hole between his aorta and his pulmonary arteries that was roughly the size of a straw," said Dr. Sean Levchuck, chairman of pediatric cardiology at St. Francis Hospital. He led the surgery to close to hole last week.

But the procedure couldn't have been done without help from the Gift of Life and students from St. Anthony's High School who raised over $5,000 to bring Erblin to the United States.

Hannah Smith was one of five aspiring doctors inside the operating room. She is a student at St. Anthony's High School in South Huntington. The unique opportunity is part of a new hands-on medical collaboration between her school and St. Francis Hospital.

"I may not have been holding the tools but I know I contributed everything I can," she said. "I hope in 10 years I can be standing in this spot again saying that I actually did the surgery."

When they reunited today, Erblin was quick to give out hugs and play games. His father, Fadil Sllamniku, said he already sees a difference and that Erblin has lots of energy.

Erblin has a lot to look forward to, a brand-new soccer ball, and St. Anthony's gear to help tell his story.

Doctors said he has one more appointment on April 4 before he goes home four days later.