Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Heart-defect Support Group Raises Funds at Danvers Grill

By Rachel Bell     
Gordon College News Service
October 18, 2011

(This story appeared October 18, 2011, in the Boston Globe, Danvers site, and October 20, 2011, in the print and online editions of The Salem News.)

DANVERS, MA—When Anna-mary Geist, 35, was pregnant with her second baby, she visited a funeral home. Doctors had said that her unborn son would have only a few hours to live, and she thought she better prepare.

But Sam, who was born on September 1, 2010, with a Congenital Heart Defect (CHD), is today healthy and strong despite the initial diagnosis. After two surgeries Geist is thankful and hopeful for his future.

“We paid our price at the beginning, with one foot in the grave,” she said. Now Geist supports others who are still struggling with CHD through an organization known as It’s My Heart, a non-profit group that supports and advocates for those dealing with Congenital Health Defects.

Last year, she became president of the group’s Boston chapter, and this Saturday, October 22, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. she’ll help in their second annual Craft Fair and Bake Sale at the Onion Town Grill in Danvers to raise money and awareness for CHD patients. Admission to the event is free and there will be face-painting and craft activities for children throughout the day.

“We’re going to have someone to greet people with an awareness brochure,” said Isabelle Ouimette, 41, the chapter director of It’s My Heart.

Ouimette was involved with the first Craft Day last year. “She just met me coming off the street,” said Gale Couture, owner of the Onion Town Grill, who has donated the function room to It’s My Heart for the second year in a row. “It depends what it’s for but I’ve donated it a couple times to other things too. It’s for a good cause.”

The money raised on Saturday will go towards distributing information about CHD to hospitals and doctor’s rooms and supporting families with members affected by CHD. According to Ouimette, the group has hospital programs at the Boston Children’s Hospital, Floating Hospital for Children, Tufts Medical Center and soon at Mass General Hospital. These programs provide comfort bags and care packages to CHD families in hospital and helps connect them with other local families in the program. This locality and connection to other families is what first drew Geist into the group.

“Initially there was nothing close by, nothing I could touch,” Geist said. When she found It’s My Heart at a Danvers family fair, she got involved as a volunteer and hopes to give support to others in a similar situation. “Hearing it from someone who has been through it is better than reading it somewhere,” she said.

According to the website of the Children’s Heart Foundation about one in every 100 babies in the U.S. are born each year with some kind of congenital heart defect. It is the most prevalent birth defect in America.

Ouimette’s two-year-old son, Andre also has a heart defect and had open heart surgery when he was three months old. “You have to make it the new normal,” she said. “You have to deal with it.” Ouimette said that with the current technology and treatment, no one should have to die from a heart defect.

For Geist, her son has one more surgery left and she said “normal” is exactly the life her son will have. “The only limitations he’ll have are the ones we put on him,” she said. “Maybe he’ll be a sports star – they always have good stories.”

When: Saturday, October 22
Where: The Onion Town Grill, (Vidalias Function Room),
175 Water Street, Danvers, MA
Time: 10am-3pm
Admission: Free


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