In 2004, 28-year-old Kimberly Kaufman learned she had congestive heart failure.
Until then, Kim had been blessed with good health, great family and friends and a satisfying career. Now, her heart was so enlarged and so damaged that doctors suspected she would never again live a normal life.
In November 2006, while Kim was recovering from heart surgery at the Stanford University Medical Center, she met two young children who had been moved to the adult ICU because the pediatric unit was filled. Kim knew how difficult it was to be hospitalized and separated from family and friends. She could imagine how much harder it would be for a child.
So she decided to help. Kim and her family have since devoted much of their time and energy helping to give “heart kids” and their parents some sense of normalcy in a world that feels anything but.
At first, the effort was informal; the family donated Christmas gifts to the children spending the holidays in Stanford’s Lucile Packard Hospital for Children. But from there, the Kaufman’s dedication grew and Angels for Hearts was created as an official charitable nonprofit providing support to pediatric heart patients in three Northern California hospitals: Lucile Packard in Palo Alto and Sutter Children’s Center and UC Davis Children’s Hospital in Sacramento.
Angels for Hearts has raised more than $100,000 in the years since its founding, allowing it to provide support in many forms. A “wishes, wants and needs” fund provides gift cards year round, so the hospitals’ child-life specialists can provide programming like pizza parties and Halloween costumes without asking families to pay.
“These types of things are so important to helping our patients feel like normal kids,” says Sutter Child Life Specialist Sara Anderson. “But a mom or dad spending days at a child’s bedside often doesn’t have the time or energy to provide them.”
Angels for Hearts has also given iPads to specialists like Anderson, who use the tablets to educate children about their surgery, to distract them during difficult times and to give them a way to communicate with family and friends via email and Skype.
Outside the hospital, Angels for Hearts continues to support children and their families with annual community events. The When I Grow Up program introduces kids to adults who have “dream” jobs as teachers, police officers, fire fighters, athletes and the like. A Valentine’s event helps families celebrate the holiday and promote heart disease awareness.
What makes Angels for Hearts truly special is Kim herself, says Suzanne O’Brien, whose son Liam is a heart patient. “Kim is online, actively engaged and making all of us feel like personal friends; for example, bringing my husband Mike and I dinner when we were at the hospital on our anniversary. I think of Kim and Angels for Hearts as sunshine and support for all of us.”
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