by Adria Giordano, Gabriella’s Mom and Associate Vice President of Development, Connecticut Children’s
Gabriella was born on August 28, 2003. A beautiful baby, Gabriella was born with two medical conditions, congenital cataracts and a heart defect, Atrial Septal Defect (ASD). Surgery on her eyes was done in infancy to allow her to see, but her heart defect was not detected until the summer of 2006, when she was just about to turn three years old.
She had no symptoms and we were shocked when during a routine medical checkup for a cough, a heart murmur was detected. After a visit to Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for an EKG and ultrasound, our worst fears were confirmed. Gabriella indeed had a Congenital Heart Defect, an ASD, which would require open heart surgery to repair and close.
We were in complete shock and saddened to hear our little girl, who had already undergone four eye surgeries, had to undergo yet another operation, this time on her heart. At the time of her diagnosis there was a procedure done in the heart catheterization lab which would avoid the need for open heart surgery where a patch is inserted through a catheter and placed on the hole. Our hopes were that his procedure could be done on Gabriella. However, this was not to be the case.
It was determined that the hole in her heart was too large to undergo this procedure and she would need to have open heart surgery. After the initial shock wore off, we had a very detailed consult with the cardiac surgeon; Dr. Dennis Mello, who explained every single thing to us, and never rushed us as we asked endless questions. Gabriella’s cardiologist, Dr. Felice Heller, was truly amazing, and took the time to show Gabriella and her little sister, Francesca, how the heart works, and had an amazing way of calming her fears, when she became anxious. She helped us explain to our little girl, how very special her heart was, and after the surgery it would be fixed. At three and a half years old, she put on her brave face and said without a tear, said “Okay mommy, let’s fix it.”
It was definitely the hardest thing we have ever faced as parents. We soon met Paula Abrahamson, at Child Life Specialist at Connecticut Children’s, who soon became our friend. She stood by us every step of the way, and as we placed our child’s life into the hands of her surgeon, she hugged me and walked with me into the waiting room. In January of 2007 our little girl had an angel by her side during her surgery and recovery. Her surgery was a success and we are still amazed by how quickly she recovered. Five days later and she was running down the halls of the hospital and playing with her little sister! We are forever indebted to Dr. Mello, Dr. Heller, and of course Paula, “our” very special new friend, who was there for all of us. In fact, it was truly the entire team at Connecticut Children’s who took care of Gabriella, from the doctors and nurses, to the technicians and anesthesiologists; everyone was amazing and helped to make her stay and recovery so comfortable.
We are thrilled to say Gabriella, or “GG” as she is sometimes called, is now 12 years old and has a very healthy and compassionate heart. She is in the 7th grade and loves to hang out with her friends, swim, and Irish Step Dance. She is a wonderful big sister and the oldest cousin of six. She loves children and has decided she wants to be a teacher when she is older. If asked about her chest scar, she will tell you her “heart story”, and how it has become her bravery scar. A few years ago, she decided she wanted to do something special for children, like her, who may need heart surgery, and thus founded “GG’s Hearts”, a nonprofit which donates special teddy bears to post-cardiac patients. Her bears have been given to children at Connecticut Children’s, Yale-New Haven Children’s, Boston Children’s, Maine Medical and even Ghana! They have also been donated to Little Hearts, a nonprofit support group for families of children who have a heart issue.
Recently, Gabriella has developed secondary glaucoma, an eye disease which results in elevated pressure in the eyes that can sometimes happen after cataract surgery, which she had in infancy. It can lead to vision loss and blindness, however with early detection and treatment, it can absolutely be managed. For the last year and a half, she has been on a number of eye drops to manage this increased pressure, but unfortunately, the pressure is now too high, and she will undergo her fifth eye surgery in a week. We hope and pray this will work, and although sad to have her undergo yet another surgery, we are very optimistic at a successful outcome. At 12, my daughter is full of questions, and has asked her surgeon what most kids her age might ask: will it hurt and will this fix my eyes. She is also anxious, of course, but I think it’s because of her medical history, and especially her heart surgery, that has given her an extra layer of toughness. She has faced more than most kids her age have, but she is truly my brave girl. I try not to let her see me cry, but she sometimes does, and she comforts me. She truly is amazing, and I know will be a wonderful teacher one day. She is full of compassion, and I know touches many hearts. I also know she will get through this and will be even stronger than before.
Our family is eternally grateful to team at Connecticut Children’s for all they have done for our daughter, as well as our family. We could not say thank you enough, and will continue to do all we can to give back to such a beautiful and special place, which provides amazing care to so many children, and saves many hearts!
For the last seven years, the Giordano family has hosted “Gabriella’s Scoop Night”, a town-wide ice cream social with Ben & Jerry’s West Hartford to benefit the Division of Cardiology. To date Scoop Night has raised $30,000 for the Division.