Vivian Bass knows firsthand the anguish that families, parents and young siblings endure when there’s been a diagnosis of heart disease. Her daughter passed away at a young age from complex heart defects.
“I felt that after our daughter died, I was so busy with my professional career and raising three young sons that I never really had the opportunity to pay the tribute that I wanted to on her behalf,” Bass said.
She’ll have that opportunity as the newly elected president of Save a Child’s Heart, an Israel-based nonprofit organization that works to save the lives of critically ill children suffering from heart disease in countries where access to pediatric heart care is limited or nonexistent. Save a Child’s Heart brings children to Israel for medical care, performs missions abroad and trains medical personnel.
Bass said that giving the ability for children with disabilities such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy — especially those who are in the poorest countries in the world — to have a healthy and fulfilling life has always been important to her.
She said being elected president the culmination of everything she has done throughout her career.
“It really exemplifies the essence of my professional and personal life,” said Bass, a Bethesda resident who has served as Save a Child’s Heart U.S. vice president since 2020. “All of that is of paramount importance to me.”
Bass is the CEO emeritus of the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, where she served for 30 years, overseeing the agency’s 77 residential locations, two innovative transition youth programs and 260 full-time staff.
But Bass, who described herself as a “boots-on-the-ground person,” always knew that after she retired, she wanted to do something more.
And she has. As a volunteer, Bass is a vice chair of RespectAbility, a national advocacy organization advancing opportunities and fighting stigmas for people with disabilities. She also serves on the executive committee of CaringMatters, which strives to ensure that no one dies or grieves alone, regardless of their financial status.
Bass, a member of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County, is a former board chair of Jewish Women International, where she represented the organization with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women and The White House’s Office on Violence Against Women, among others.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Bass and Save a Child’s Heart to adapt. They were not able to travel to countries in Africa such as Ethiopia and Tanzania. But surgeries for patients from around the world have resumed.
“Save a Child’s Heart represents a truly beautiful essence of humanity to me,” Bass said.
She makes sure to give credit to her predecessors: Save a Child’s Heart founder Dr. Ami Cohen; executive director Rabbi David Litwack; outgoing co-presidents Jeff Hoffman and Judith Shore; the organization’s first president, Martin Kamerow; and past president Barry Perlis.
Bass said that what makes her election even more meaningful, is that Save a Child’s Heart is celebrating its 25th anniversary, as well as the opening of Sylvan Adams Children’s Hospital and International Pediatric Cardiac Center in Holon, Israel.
“It would have been fabulous at any time, but this year makes it even more memorable, meaningful and magnificent,” Bass said.
But the memory of her daughter is never far away. “I just felt it would be far more meaningful and a greater tribute to her and our family if I were to devote years of my life in her memory,” Bass said. “And that would be something that would be a precious treasure, not only for me, but for my extended family and our large circle of friends as well.”