MEAN­ING­FUL EVENT

‘Car­diac Kids’ en­joy Breakfast with Santa

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - LOCAL NEWS - By Glenn Griffith ggrif­[email protected]­gian.com @cn­weekly on Twit­ter

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. >> The group of chil­dren seated on the car­pet in the Park Manor Ho­tel ban­quet room last week­end were ex­cited. Af­ter hav­ing eaten a buf­fet breakfast of ba­con and eggs, bagels and get­ting their faces painted, Santa Claus was ex­pected any minute.

When the Jolly Old Elf fi­nally made his en­trance, the room went strangely silent. It was as if the 45 chil­dren seated be­fore him couldn’t be­lieve their eyes. Santa Claus in the flesh was here in Clifton Park.

As the gifts were handed out and the pack­ages un­wrapped the noise level quickly be­gan to rise. Eyes got wider, smiles re­placed looks of won­der­ment and the ex­cited con­ver­sa­tion be­tween chil­dren and adults spread through­out the room.

Last Satur­day’s Breakfast With Santa was the an­nual hol­i­day gath­er­ing of the Car­diac Kids, a group of 30 chil­dren born with con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is part of the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion Cap­i­tal Re­gion. The Christ­mas

breakfast was just one of sev­eral events the group holds dur­ing the year.

The Dec. 14 event was held in the ban­quet room of the Park Manor Ho­tel, 7 North­side Drive. The in­vi­ta­tions in­cluded the 30 young mem­bers of the Car­diac

Kids as well as sib­lings and par­ents. Ev­ery­one in this group knows ev­ery­one else well.

“We hold this event so the fam­i­lies can all sup­port one an­other and spend time to­gether,” the as­so­ci­a­tion’s spokes­woman Kather­ine McCarthy said. “Car­diac kids was formed about 10 years ago. The Christ­mas event started around six or seven years back.”

In ad­di­tion to Breakfast With Santa, the group at­tends a Val­leyCats base­ball game to­gether each sum­mer, a swim party, and goes ap­ple pick­ing. In Fe­bru­ary, the group has sched­uled a trip to the Al­bany In­ter­na­tional Air­port to see how its fire emer­gency crews op­er­ate.

The word con­gen­i­tal means at birth. A con­gen­i­tal heart de­fect oc­curs when the heart or the blood ves­sels near the heart don’t de­velop nor­mally be­fore birth.

Jen­nifer Cor­co­ran Con­way is the Car­diac Kids’ par­ent co­or­di­na­tor. She joined the Board of Di­rec­tors of the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion seven years ago, one year af­ter she was told her baby would be born with Hy­poplas­tic Left Heart Syn­drome, a con­di­tion where there is no left ven­tri­cle.

The di­ag­no­sis came when she was 20 weeks preg­nant with Aedan, her son, now eight years old and one of the kids at the breakfast.

“We were lucky,” Cor­co­ran Con­way said. “We found out be­fore he was born. Aedan had open­heart surg­eries at four days, six months and two years. Now he plays base­ball, skis in the win­ter, and swims. He can play all sports where’s there’s no con­tact.”

Cor­co­ran Con­way said the Car­diac Kids group was al­ready formed when she joined the board but its num­bers were very small.

“They asked if I would take it on and grow it and I said ab­so­lutely,” she said. “We de­cided to reach out to new fam­i­lies who were in the PICU (Pe­di­atric In­ten­sive Care Unit) at Al­bany Med with care pack­ages and raise aware­ness us­ing so­cial me­dia. In the last few years, we’ve kind of ex­ploded.”

Cor­co­ran Con­way is the pro­to­type of the type of per­son the group is try­ing to reach.

“I’m so grate­ful that now there is this sup­port group for fam­i­lies,” she said. “When Aedan was di­ag­nosed, we felt all alone. We had never heard of a con­gen­i­tal heart de­fect. We didn’t know any­body with one and for his first surg­eries, we were all alone. Now, these fam­i­lies aren’t alone. They have sup­port right from the be­gin­ning. No­body has to feel the way we did when we started our jour­ney.”

An­other fam­ily who ap­pre­ci­ates the group is the James fam­ily of Clifton Park. Shan­non James at­tended the breakfast with her three chil­dren, Jack, 11, Shawn, 5, and Maggie, 7. Jack was born with a con­di­tion called Trans­po­si­tion of the Great Ves­sel. His two ma­jor heart ves­sels, the aorta, and the pul­monary artery were re­versed.

“Af­ter Jack was born, he be­gan turn­ing blue,” Shan­non James said. “Af­ter two hours an amaz­ing sur­geon in Al­bany Med came in and said your son is crit­i­cally ill and won’t sur­vive with­out open-heart surgery. When he was five days old, the sur­geon went in and switched the ves­sels back. It was amaz­ing. Eight days af­ter surgery we came home.”

Dur­ing a rou­tine checkup this sum­mer, how­ever, doc­tors found Jack’s EKG to be ir­reg­u­lar. A visit to the Bos­ton Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal was sched­uled. Though the checkup in Bos­ton found ev­ery­thing to be fine, Shan­non James spent time ner­vously tex­ting Cor­co­ran Con­way while the tests were go­ing on.

“Ev­ery fam­ily here to­day has been through some­thing like this,” James said. “They are the only peo­ple in the world who un­der­stand what it’s like to go through some­thing like that. It’s a won­der­ful group; a group you don’t want to be part of but once you’re here you’re grate­ful you have them.”

The ma­jor fi­nan­cial spon­sor of the Car­diac Kids is Peter Connolly, gen­eral man­ager of Keeler Mercedes Benz. Connolly was at the breakfast and watched with glee as the chil­dren re­ceived their gifts from Santa.

He was asked why he se­lected this par­tic­u­lar or­ga­ni­za­tion to sup­port.

“This is one of the causes we’ve adopted,” he said. “I’m in­volved in a few non­prof­its, but to tell the truth it’s per­sonal for me. These kids tug at my heart. One of the rea­sons for that is they never feel the world owes them some­thing; they don’t seem they are en­ti­tled. And if there’s any­one in the world who is owed some­thing, it’s these kids.”

GLENN GRIFFITH - MEDIANEWS GROUP

The ex­cite­ment of hav­ing Breakfast with Santa builds in Aubree Spence, 5 dur­ing last Satur­day’s event. A mem­ber of the Car­diac Kids, Spence had heart surgery when she was 16 days old.

GLENN GRIFFITH -MEDIANEWS GROUP

Four mem­bers of the James fam­ily at the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion’s Breakfast With Santa event last week­end. Coun­ter­clock­wise from lower left are Shawn, 5, and Maggie, 7, Jack, 11 and their mother Shan­non.

GLENN GRIFFITH -MEDIANEWS GROUP

Santa speaks to the chil­dren dur­ing the Breakfast With Santa event last Satur­day.

GLENN GRIFFITH MEDIANEWS GROUP

Santa Claus pre­pares to a give a gift to one of the Car­diac Kids at the Breakfast With Santa event last week­end

GLENN GRIFFITH -MEDIANEWS GROUP

Breakfast With Santa and birthday wishes on the same day for a few of the Car­diac Kids at last week­end’s event in Clifton Park.

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