HEART OF A HERO

Cockburn Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Ben Smith

A BEEL­IAR wo­man who set up a play­group for chil­dren with heart prob­lems says she is grate­ful for the sense of con­nec­tion and sup­port which has sprouted from the group.

Jess Pianta’s son Alex was born with hy­poplas­tic left heart syn­drome, a com­plex and rare heart de­fect present at birth.

With no sur­geons in Perth able to op­er­ate, Ms Pianta was forced to travel to Queens­land, where a new­born Alex un­der­went two open heart surg­eries in his first few months of life.

Af­ter re­turn­ing from the emo­tional or­deal, Ms Pianta said she felt a sense of de­tach­ment.

“I spent five months in hos­pi­tal with my son be­cause we had to take him over east and when we got back I felt iso­lated, like no­body un­der­stood,” she said.

“Be­ing sent over and com­ing back is quite iso­lat­ing; you’re cut off be­cause you’ve been in hos­pi­tal for a few months. Life is sup­posed to go back to nor­mal when you get out, but it’s not.”

Roughly 18 months on from her re­turn, Ms Pianta has helped es­tab­lish a play­group purely for kids liv­ing with con­gen­i­tal heart dis­ease and her ef­forts have been recog­nised with a nom­i­na­tion for a lo­cal hero award.

Her group now spans around 20 par­ents, who meet weekly to give their kids a chance to play with other chil­dren liv­ing with a sim­i­lar con­di­tion.

Chil­dren with a con­gen­i­tal heart dis­ease risk be­com­ing se­ri­ously ill if they are exposed to bugs that healthy kids at reg­u­lar play­groups might sim­ply brush off.

With Alex again set to go un­der the knife be­fore the end of the year, Ms Pianta said she was thank­ful for the con­stant sup­port the group pro­vided.

“As much as our friends and fam­ily are great, un­til you’ve been in that sit­u­a­tion where your kid is un­well and go­ing through mul­ti­ple surg­eries, it’s hard to re­late to the par­ents,” she said.

“Build­ing re­la­tion­ships with peo­ple who have been through same thing and the sup­port they pro­vide, they un­der­stand what you’re go­ing through, it’s nice to have some­one in your cor­ner who’s been there them­selves.”

While she is the sole nom­i­nee from the group for the award, Ms Pianta paid trib­ute to her friend Angie Robin­son, who she her­alded as the “driv­ing force” be­hind the group’s es­tab­lish­ment.

“She’s been by my side; she’s got a lit­tle girl with a sim­i­lar con­di­tion, we went over to Bris­bane with our kids to­gether, and she was the first to con­nect and re­alised we needed some­thing like that,” she said.

Ms Painta has been nom­i­nated for a West­field Lo­cal Hero grant, with $10,000 to go to non-profit heart dis­ease or­gan­i­sa­tion HeartKids if she wins.

The grants will be decided by an on­line pub­lic vote, with win­ners an­nounced on Oc­to­ber 27.

To vote, search on­line for West­field lo­cal he­roes 2020.

Pic­ture: David Baylis

Jessica Pianta, whose son Alex has a con­gen­i­tal heart con­di­tion, has been nom­i­nated for a West­field Lo­cal Hero Award.

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