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Catching up and looking to the future...

Here's an article that I'm a little late sharing. And hoping that all who celebrate have a Happy Easter and a Happy Passover!

By Diane Bell, Columnist, The San Diego Union-Tribune A San Diego mom finds a way to mend a broken heart and help others Most people associate February with Valentine’s Day, romance and love. For San Diegan Maria Platis, it signifies Heart Month and the birth to her son, George. He entered the world as an outwardly healthy 8-pound boy. It wasn’t long before physicians detected serious problems. Doctors discovered the infant’s heart was on the right side of his chest. It also was flip-flopped — a mirror image of normal hearts. George’s heart also was missing a ventricle — one of the four chambers vital to the flow of blood as it circulates through our bodies. Before delivery, his mother’s heart had been working overtime — for both of them. After he was born, his heart abnormality led to oxygen deprivation, and launched the first of a string of surgeries at Rady Children’s Hospital to re-work the path of blood vessels servicing his heart. George’s first operation was on Valentine’s Day, 1990. He was 4 days old. He became one of Rady’s cardiac kids — children whose hearts are truly broken, in the medical sense, due to various causes. Despite his defective heart, George went on to live a fairly normal childhood in his Del Cerro neighborhood. “He went to school. He played sports (including lacrosse). He was in the band. He took seminar classes,” recalls his mom. He enrolled in UC San Diego, where he majored in philosophy. At age 25, he married a former Patrick Henry High schoolmate. Over the years, George routinely returned to visit the “cardiac kids” at Rady’s, helping set up Valentine’s Day party booths, games and decor, his mom says. “He loved Rady’s and held the people there in his heart.” He dreamed of setting up his own support group for families like his, trying to find their way in unfamiliar medical territory, and for patients like him when they grow older. But that never happened. On Nov. 8, 2019, George died of a combination of lung and heart complications in Bend, Ore., where he and his wife were living. He was 29. Even though he had been receiving oxygen for lungs damaged from oxygen deprivation in his ongoing struggle with heart issues, his death came as a shock. His mom and dad, Michael, were devastated. George was their only child. “This has been a nightmare. It’s been very difficult,” says Platis, who started volunteering in Rady’s surgical center in 2017, working four-hour shifts, checking in patients and escorting parents to recovery rooms to see their child. She had to stop this work for a year after George died, in keeping with hospital policy. Then the pandemic broke out, and she had to find a different way to volunteer. She got an idea. It was triggered by a childhood friend of her son who had flown here from Geneva, Switzerland, for his funeral. Nicole Hertel texted Platis a heartfelt message from the airport recalling that the last thing George ever wrote to her was, “I’ve lived a charmed life.” Those words hit home a few days later when his mother was reading an article about the Japanese art of Kintsugi, in which broken pieces of pottery and china are bonded back together with gold tracing the seams, instilling a different and unique type of beauty. George had told her he wanted to do something to donate money to the Heart Institute at Rady Children’s Hospital. Platis thought, why not a charm shaped like a heart, a broken heart, that has been mended with gold? “I have a friend in Portland with whom I went to high school. She’s an artist and she helped design it,” Platis says. She also consulted a friend experienced in jewelry making and was put in touch with craftsman Armondo Barry, of Amate Studios, in Mesa, Ariz. He created 15 samples for her of a fractured sterling silver heart, the cracks trimmed in gold, and of a gold-plated heart, for no charge. Platis later learned that Barry’s wife had lost a sibling to an undiagnosed heart condition. Then, in the middle of their project, Barry suffered a heart attack while playing basketball and passed away. Broken hearts were everywhere. His studio continues to operate, and Platis created a website, A Charmed Heart, through which she now sells the heart necklaces, bracelets and charms (from $92 to $148) inspired by her son. One hundred percent of net proceeds are being channeled to the Heart Institute at Rady Children’s Hospital. In conjunction with the hospital’s foundation, she also set up a Miracle Makers page to accept donations in her son’s name. George loved the nurses, doctors and surgeons at Rady Children’s Hospital, where they continue to see their patients even after they reach adulthood, his mom says. Alexandra Loker, VP of philanthropy at the hospital, never met George but says she’s eternally grateful for family members like Maria Platis, who have worked so hard to give back and help the children of San Diego. “We’re a nonprofit hospital, and those efforts are needed and focus community attention on the really important work being done here,” Loker says. On Dec. 29, Platis presented Rady’s Heart Institute with a check for $21,972. “I’m going to try to do it every year.” Published in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Feb. 12, 2022

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