Written by: Andrea Fernández Aponte
Happy Wednesday, friend! Today I want to talk to you about a cause that is really close to my heart (no pun intended).
When I was 7 years old, my dad’s father passed away after having a massive heart attack. Five years later, my mother’s dad also passed from heart failure. At the ripe age of 13 I had lost both of my grandfathers to America’s most common fatal condition: heart disease.
While I was too young to understand what happened to my abuelo Jorge at the time of his death, I was devastated and angry when my abuelo Manolo was taken from me by the same disease. I remember feeling helpless but also selfish because my grief was nothing compared to my grandma’s, and yet I had the audacity to sob as loudly as she did.
Looking back now, though, I realize she was lucky. She had four daughters and three sons-in-law that were ready to take care of her financially, and seven grandchildren willing to hug her and hold her hand as she processed her emotions.
About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s 1 in every 4 deaths. Sadly, a lot of people who suffer from or have a loved one fighting this horrible disease do not have the means to financially or emotionally support themselves during this difficult process.
This blatant need for support led to the founding of Harboring Hearts, a NYC-based organization that is dedicated to providing critical financial and emotional assistance to heart patients and their families.
What’s the story?
Harboring Hearts’ mission is rooted in each of its founding members’ personal connection to heart disease.
The vision for Harboring Hearts was initially inspired by Michelle Javian and Yuki Kotani whose fathers were both hospitalized for heart disease and ultimately received heart transplants within months of each other at the same hospital and by the same surgeon. Michelle, whose father was hospitalized for a massive heart attack and heart transplant until complications led to his passing, wanted to honor the memory of her father. Yuki, whose father suffered from cardiomyopathy and received a heart transplant after 15 heart attacks over 10 years, experienced the emotional strains of watching her father suffer through heart disease.
Harboring Hearts was then founded and became an official 501c3 on April 10, 2009, the anniversary of Michelle’s father’s passing.
What’s the impact?
There are over 10 million families in the United States that are unable to pay for medical costs in their time of need. Harboring Hearts ensures that these underserved families facing major cardiac surgery have somewhere to turn when they need a small financial or emotional boost.
Through financial support programs, Harboring Hearts provides critical time-sensitive assistance to heart patients and their families aimed at keeping them from falling into poverty while undergoing heart treatment. Through emotional support programs, the organization also provides moments of hope and inspiration to support the healing process after surgery.
Harboring Hearts is the only organization in NYC that exclusively supports heart surgery patients with financial opportunities to help them in their joint battle of heart disease and poverty. In 2015, Harboring Hearts supported 138 families across NYC, and the need is still much greater. Additionally, since its founding 7 years ago, Harboring Hearts’ Community Programs have benefited more than 2500 patients and family members.
How does it work?
Cardiac social work teams in partner hospitals across NYC vet and refer families through an online intake process to Harboring Hearts. The organization then reviews all intake forms submitted and screens families based on income level and sustainability for their program. Once selected, families receive requested financial support for housing, utilities, transportation, food and/or medical costs.
As families recover, they are invited to hospital based events to learn about heart healthy living, to enjoy arts and crafts and entertainment and to partake in heart healthy food. Additionally, families become eligible to participate in our Hope 4 Hearts Days which are monthly NYC family adventures for recovering heart patients and their families.
How to get involved
If you want to support heart disease patients and their families, you can volunteer, donate, or host a fundraiser for Harboring Hearts. Find out more here!
You could also create a charitable wedding registry that sponsors Harboring Hearts. Check it out!