A Heartfelt Journal Collection Created For CHD Patients
By J. L. Shively
The month of Feb. was American Heart Month and young Caldwell resident, Guilia Russo, continued to be dedicated to doing her part to raise heart health awareness.
Guilia was born with an atrial septal defect, or ASD, which means that her heart had a small hole in it. According to the American Heart Association website, ASD is a type of congenital heart defect which allows “oxygen-rich blood to leak into the oxygen-poor blood,” resulting in the heart and lungs having to work harder to properly distribute oxygen.
For the entire month of Feb., Guilia collected new journals which she will donate to the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Coalition for patients undergoing treatment for different types of CHD.
The term congenital designates the heart defect as having been present since birth and is labeled as a defect, rather than a disease, because it results from the abnormal development of the heart, according to the American Heart Association website.
Joann Russo, Guilia’s mother, explains that Guilia underwent corrective surgery in 2013 to repair her ASD and has since recovered. While in the hospital, Guilia was presented with a “Heart Bag,” a gift bag filled with items to help keep her occupied while she rested and healed.
It was because of the care she was given while a patient that Guilia wanted to do her part in helping others who are suffering from CHDs and undergoing treatment.
“After her recovery, she wanted to give back,” says Russo.
“Remembering the gift bag she received with fun items to make her stay more comfortable she reached out to Cathy Biamonte to ask how she could help,” Russo explains.
Guilia was able to coordinate with Biamonte from the CHD Coalition to determine the best way to help. It was with this collaboration that Guilia came to the conclusion to collected journals to be included in gift bags given to CHD patients and their families in local hospitals. These journals, Guilia hopes will help the patients and their loved ones record their recovery and move forward.
Now age 15, Guilia is a student at James Caldwell High School and held her second annual Journal Drive this past month.
While journal donations were collected for the entire month, Guilia and her family also hosted an open house on Feb. 14, for the community to come together for light refreshments at the Russo home and drop off their donations in person.
While Guilia’s first journal drive collected more than 100 journals, Russo estimates that, this year, more than 200 were collected. These journals, Russo says, “will be donated to the CHD Coalition for inclusion in their Heart Bags. Heart Bags are donated to children in the PICU [Pediatric Intensive Care Unit] at local area hospitals.”
According to Russo, Guilia is still putting the finishing touches to the journals. Guilia makes her own bookmarks to be included with each journal before she donates them to the coalition. The bookmarks she includes with each journal “she has printed with her personal story,” Russo says, to help inspire patients going through what Guilia herself had gone through.
While this was only the second journal drive, Russo explains that they would like to make it a tradition and continue to do it in the month of Feb. each year.
The main pillars the CHD Coalition’s mission is to spread awareness, support the community and aide in the progress of research. According to the coalition’s website, funding for research is low due to a “lack of widespread national awareness.”
As Guilia noted in her journal drive flier, the March of Dimes recognizes that “CHD’s are the number one birth defect; affecting an estimated 40,000 or one in every 100 babies born each year,” and therefore needs the attention and understanding of the community.
While research for better treatment is ongoing, Guilia has created a movement that helps patients and their families now, something that everyone can be grateful for, from the bottom of their hearts.
For more information about the CHD Coalition or to participate in other events, such as CHD Awareness Walk, visit the website at www.chdcoalition.org or call 973-850-6320.