Archive for Charity

All the Comforts From Home for Our Soldiers #ComfortsFromHome

Soldier homecomings always get me right in the feelings. I know that aching hole in your heart when your soldier is away and that elation when he returns home.

When my husband was deployed, I was carrying our first child. So, there were plenty of distractions as I went to midwife appointments and put together baby furniture.

I also stayed active in our community, volunteering with the Family Readiness Group (FRG), tutoring at-risk kids at the local high school, and organizing projects with the Junior League. And I went out with friends to concerts and dinners and craft fairs (where I could find more baby furniture).

Still, there was nothing that could replace my soldier in my life. He was always on my mind, no matter where I was. I lived for his e-mails and our Skype sessions. As soon as he would call, I felt like I came alive. Hanging up felt like the wind was knocked out of me.

I sent him whatever I could–vacuum-sealed treats, a little “picnic in a box,” some holiday decorations for special days–but there is nothing quite like being there together…and warm food outside of mess hours, and hot showers, and a nice comfortable bed probably rank up there, too.

We dreamed of his homecoming. I had so many welcome surprises planned, including all the comforts of home he missed so much overseas. Life overtook us, though–our daughter was born with a congenital heart defect and my husband’s homecoming was for her open heart surgery.

Of course, we all got the best gift–our family reunited! Still, I love seeing soldiers get the full treatment I would have loved to have given my husband when he returned home.

So, I am excited to see “A Hero’s Welcome” on November 11 (very appropriately, Veteran’s Day), 2014, premier on some of my favorite networks, including HGTV, Food Network, and the Cooking Channel.

Marie Callender’s, the USO and an army of experts from food, home and travel provide the comforts of home for one special returning soldier.
The one hour television special, “A Hero’s Welcome,” will be hosted by Robert Irvine from Restaurant Impossible, Genevieve Gorder from HGTV Design Star and Gary Sinise, award-winning actor and founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Visit ComfortsfromHome.com to learn more about how you can join Marie Callender’s in helping to bring a little bit of home sweet home to our U.S. service men and women overseas.

Tune-in as Marie Callender’s, the USO and an army of experts from food, home and travel provide the comforts of home as only Marie Callender’s can, in a truly heartwarming homecoming you’ll always remember.

“A Hero’s Welcome” will welcome one special soldier back to their family in a national television event airing on Veteran’s Day, November 11, 2014. The one-hour TV special will air across a range of your favorite networks including HGTV, Food Network, Cooking Channel, Travel Channel, DIY Channel, and Great American County.

I have been selected by Tap Influence to be a spokesperson for Marie Callender’s While I have been compensated for my time, my opinions are my own.

Beautiful Haiti

The unalleviated suffering of one diminishes the humanity of us all.

At least, that’s what I’ve believed most of my life.

We’ve seen some tragic images in recent days, many of us, including myself and my co-editor at Mamanista have felt compelled to donate to help. I came across this lovely post detailing how you can save to give, even if your budget is tight.

As a history educator, my acquaintance with Haiti to this point has been primarily its difficult and challenging history. Some have used that to argue that Haiti is a lost cause and others to argue for greater compassion. Others, including our President, have pointed to recent improvements and signs of hope that must not be extinguished.

But Haiti is not all violent history and governmental corruption and poverty and environmental degradation and disease. Haiti is also a living and vibrant society. Perhaps if we think of the beauty in Haiti, and its rich cultural heritage, we might be struck more by our shared humanity than just by pity.

In a local village, there is a beautiful gallery of Haitian art. I’ve gone several times with my family to stare at the paintings.

I wanted to share them with you.

Feeding the Homeless on Thanksgiving

This morning I spent a little time helping Volunteer 4 Long Island to assemble packages of food, personal items (toiletries), and clothing for those who are homeless or living in emergency and temporary housing.

Even the littlest volunteers helped make cards to go in the packages.

Those who did not have small children then went out and distributed the packages to the people living in the surrounding woods, abandoned and condemned buildings, and shelters and temporary and emergency housing.

Watch this amazing video of their efforts Feeding the Homeless in 2008–I guarantee you will be moved!

As part of my work with Bloganthropy.org, I launched @Volunteer4LI on Twitter, got a basic website up and running, and directed people to their facebook page. Jeanine, who co-founded the organization with her husband, said that all of the kind bloggers and tweeters who helped spread the word (especially those who are part of Long Island Tweet-Up@LITweetUp) got them dozens of additional volunteers. And we’re going to have Jeanine share on Bloganthropy how they got started with this wonderful effort. Hopefully we can see how social media can help others get projects like this started in their own communities!

Jeanine’s husband told an amazing story illustrating how even small acts of kindness can plant the seeds for salvation. He explained that the goal for today was not only to feed empty stomachs on this one occasion, but to feed hearts and souls for a lifetime.

I am amazed at the good works this organization does. If you are on Long Island, please join. Even if you are not on Long Island, please see their projects and I hope they will inspire your own efforts.

Can We Help Baby Jaeli? YES, We Can!

Have you heard about baby Jaeli?

We hear a lot about how important breastmilk is for babies–but here is a baby for whom mother’s milk is literally a life and death issue.

Jaeli has a rare genetic condition and will not tolerate formula. Her mom is breastfeeding and pumping but it is not enough. What baby Jaeli needs is time and calories and that is what breastmilk will give her.

But her mom’s state Medicaid will not cover this need and banked breastmilk, especially the high-calorie milk Jaeli needs, is costly.

But we won’t let a baby suffer and starve. Oh, no we won’t.

Ange England took up the cause and issued a challenge to the netizens of the social media world: Will you feed this baby? Moms, dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other caring people answered her call and donated enough for baby Jaeli to have milk through the end of October.

Baby Jaeli needs more.

Do you know someone at a company that could sponsor a week’s or month’s worth of feedings?

Working together, we can give provide sustenance to a baby.

Find out more:

Everyone Deserves A Breath of Fresh Air

The Fresh Air Fund has provided free summer vacations to New York City children from disadvantaged communities since 1877. Many of these kids would otherwise not have a chance to play in open spaces, enjoy nature, or even just relax on the grass under a shady tree. The kind of experiences that should be a part of childhood.

As a child, I used to visit my Grandfather at the hotel where he worked in the Catskills. I can remember how much more carefree the summers seemed, even to this suburbanite. For the Fresh Air Fund children who grow up in concrete hi-rises, this change of pace and environment can be even more important.

Imagine a childhood summer without blades of grass tickling your toes, catching fireflies, or splashing in the water.

There are a lot of ways you can help these kids get out of the city for a little while and experience more of their world.

One of the biggest ways a family can help is to host a child. Unless all prospective host families are screened and vetted in time many children may miss out on this invaluable experience. Families who want to extend an invitation to a 9-12 year old are especially in need. If you are interested, please contact Angie (angie@freshair.org or 1-800-367-0003; 212.897.8900).

If you cannot host, you can help with a donation to The Fresh Air Fund.

Please spread the word this and every summer!

Congenital Heart Defects: Legislative Victories!

If you read this blog, you know about my support of the American Heart Association and my personal experience with heart issues. Today I got this great e-mail from the ACHA in my inbox and I want to share this with you.

Dear ACHA supporter:

We did it!

Thanks to the hundreds of letters, e-mails, and congressional visits made by people like you, both the House and Senate included calls for ACHD funding in the first version of the 2008 budget. To view the full House and Senate bills, click here (House) and here (Senate).

House:
Congenital heart disease -The Committee recognizes that congenital heart disease is a chronic disease affecting approximately 1.8 million Americans. It commends NHLBI for convening a working group to address this issue, and supports its recommendation that action be taken to prevent needless disability and premature mortality in this rapidly-growing population. The Committee urges NHLBI to work with patient associations and other appropriate public health organizations to develop education and research initiatives targeted to the life-long needs of congenital heart disease survivors.

Senate:
Congenital Heart Disease -The Committee commends the NHLBI for convening a working group to address congenital heart diseases, and supports its recommendation that action be taken to prevent needless disability and premature mortality. The Committee urges the NHLBI to work with patient associations, other appropriate NIH Institutes, and the CDC to develop education and research initiatives targeted to the life-long needs of congenital heart defect survivors.

So what’s the next step?
Over the next five months, Congress will work to create and vote on a final 2008 budget bill. We want this call for ACHD funding to make it all the way into the final budget. Once this happens, Congress will then ask federal health and research agencies to tell them how they have responded to this call for action.

So what do we need from you?
Please write or email your members of Congress to let them know why federal support for CHD survivors is important to you. The goal is to make your lawmakers aware of the call for ACHD funding in the budget and to urge their support for CHD survivors.

Think writing a letter won’t make a difference? Think again! Research shows it takes only 10 contacts to make a legislator pay attention to a piece of legislation!

Need some help getting started? Three sample letters and letter-writing tips can be found here.

Find your lawmakers by visiting www.house.gov and www.senate.gov. After you have found your lawmakers, follow the link to their individual web pages. You will find all mailing and email addresses here.

With your help, we can take this all the way!

Advances in Treating Heart Defects: Still So Much to Learn

When it comes to raising money for the American Heart Association, I ain’t too proud to beg.

Here’s an example of the sort of research that may save the lives of babies, like my little Baby Diva. During her life-saving heart operation, they were unable to salvage her valve. At some point she will likely need a replacement.

This new research could mean that one day babies will have a valve made from their own cells that will grow along with them–and therefore not need to be replaced:

CHICAGO, Nov. 17 (AP) — Scientists for the first time have grown human heart valves using stem cells from the fluid that cushions babies in the womb, offering an approach that may be used to repair defective hearts.

The idea is to create new valves in the laboratory while a pregnancy progresses and have them ready to implant in a baby with heart defects after it is born.

The Swiss experiment follows recent successes at growing bladders and blood vessels and suggests that people may one day be able to grow their own replacement heart parts, in some cases, even before they are born.

It is one of several tissue engineering advances that could lead to homegrown heart valves that are more durable and effective than artificial or cadaver valves.

“This may open a whole new therapy concept to the treatment of congenital heart defects,” said Dr. Simon Hoerstrup of the University of Zurich.

Dr. Hoerstrup led the work, which was presented Wednesday at an American Heart Association conference.

Also at the meeting, Japanese researchers said they had grown new heart valves in rabbits using cells from the animals’ own tissue. It was the first time replacement heart valves had been created in this manner, said the lead author, Dr. Kyoko Hayashida.

Dr. Ziyad Hijazi, a University of Chicago cardiologist, said the results of the two studies were “very promising.”

“I don’t doubt” that it will be applied one day in humans, Dr. Hijazi said.

One percent of all newborns, or more than one million babies born worldwide each year, have heart problems. Such defects kill more babies in the United States in the first year of life than any other birth defects, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Defects in heart valves can be detected during pregnancy with ultrasound tests at about 20 weeks. At least one-third of afflicted infants have problems that could be treated with replacement valves, Dr. Hoerstrup said.

Conventional procedures to fix faulty heart valves have drawbacks. Artificial valves are prone to blood clots, and patients must take anti-clotting drugs for life.

Valves from human cadavers or animals can deteriorate, requiring repeated open-heart surgeries to replace them, Dr. Hijazi said. That is especially true in children because such valves do not grow along with the body.

Valves made from the patient’s own cells are living tissue and might be able to grow with the patient, said Dr. Hayashida, who is with the National Cardiovascular Center Research Institute in Osaka.

The Swiss procedure has an additional advantage. Using cells the fetus sheds in amniotic fluid avoids controversy because it does not involve destroying embryos to get stem cells.

“This is an ethical advantage,” Dr. Hoerstrup said.

Here is how the experiment worked: Amniotic fluid was obtained through a needle inserted into the womb during amniocentesis, a prenatal test for birth defects. Fetal stem cells were isolated from the fluid, cultured in a laboratory dish, then placed on a mold shaped like a small ink pen and made of biodegradable plastic.

It took four to six weeks to grow each of the 12 valves created in the experiment. The researchers said laboratory tests showed they appeared to function normally.

The next step is to see if they work in sheep, a two-year experiment that Dr. Hoerstrup said was under way.

He and his co-researcher, Dorthe Schmidt, called their method “a promising, low-risk approach enabling the prenatal fabrication of heart valves ready to use at birth.”

Dr. Hoerstrup said amniotic stem cells could also be frozen for years and could potentially be used to create replacement parts for aging or diseased valves in adults, too.

The research is preliminary, and experts say implanting tissue-engineered valves in human hearts is probably years away. But it is not far-fetched. Earlier this year, American scientists reported re-engineering diseased bladders with tissue grown from the patients’ own cells.

And last year, researchers reported that two kidney dialysis patients from Argentina had received the world’s first tissue-engineered blood vessels, fashioned from their own skin and vein tissue.

Dr. John E. Mayer Jr., a Children’s Hospital Boston heart surgeon and a pioneer in tissue engineering, said scientists were optimistic that research would revolutionize care for people with valve disease.

About 250,000 patients worldwide have surgery to replace heart parts each year, Dr. Mayer said.

In one of Dr. Mayer’s experiments, heart valves fashioned from stem cells harvested from sheep bone marrow appeared to function normally when implanted in sheep. A similar experiment used cells harvested from sheep arteries.

Dr. Hoerstrup said amniotic fluid was potentially a richer source of stem cells than other sources. Dr. Mayer said the big question was whether stem cells from amniotic fluid could create valves superior to those made from other cell types.

“I’m pretty sure the ball will continue to be advanced down the field,” he said. “We’ll get there one way or the other.”

Please donate now in Baby Diva’s honor to support work like this! Remember, just in case you want more incentive, if you donate just $2 or more and let us know, you will also be entered in the Mamanista! contest!!!

The hardest thing I’ve ever done

The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to hand my baby over to the surgeons so they could operate and save her life.


Did you know heart defects are among the most common birth defects–approximately 40,000 babies (1-2%) in the United States are born each year with a heart defect–and they are the leading cause of defect-related infant death?

And yet, there is comparatively little funding going into researching the causes of these heart defects and treatment options.

What amazes me most, is that some of the heart defects that do require surgery can be healed with just one operation.

Just one surgery and a child goes from a death sentence to a good chance to live a normal life.

Baby Diva’s cardiologist uses his own vacation time to identify good candidates throughout the world for these surgeries and then locates the funding to bring them to the United States for the operation.

The hardest thing I ever did was hand her over, but I did so knowing the operation has a 95% success rate and could give her a chance at a full life.

Without surgery, depending on the exact pathology, tetralogy of fallot has a mortality of 30% of patients by age 2 years to 50% by age 6 years, 80% by age 10 years, and 95% by age 20…and those statistics are for the more straightforward cases.

Thanks to dedicated and talented researchers and surgeons, I did not have to do something far more difficult–something no parent should have to do. Thanks to this operation, I did not have to hand my little baby over to be buried.

More research is needed, though. Some heart defects are caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) or known genetic conditions, such as partial deletion of a chromosome. Others, like Baby Diva’s defect has no known cause.

Some cases, like Baby Diva, will need a follow up operation to replace a valve. Great strides are being made that may mean this follow up will be a less invasive procedure, rather than another open heart surgery. Some research even suggests we will be able to create a valve from the baby’s own cells, which will grow

Some fatal conditions do not have the same high operation success rates.

Some babies will never get an operation and will never reach their first birthday.

So, please donate to the American Heart Association in honor of Baby Diva so we can prevent, repair, and heal heart defects. Oh, and you can also win cool stuff by telling people about Congenital Heart Defects.

Always in My Heart

After a long labor that came perilously close to a desperate, emergency c-section, my perfect little one entered the world.

She had ten fingers, ten toes, and, despite the nurse’s warning that after such an exhausting birth she might not be ready to nurse, a voracious hunger.

They placed her on my chest and she was still the exact temperature of my body. I could feel her need for me surging through her tiny body, along with the beating of her small heart.

Hours' Old

She looked exactly how I had imagined her: pink, unblemished skin; smooth, even features; and wise eyes that whispered truths only a newborn can share.

Over the next few hours, as I bonded with my perfect baby, the doctors came to me with forced cheerfulness. A murmur, they explained, but no need to be concerned. Most likely it will be gone tomorrow. Still there, they apologized, but probably just a small hole that will close on its own.

My husband had not yet arrived on leave from Iraq and I turned to my mother, But she looks so perfect, I said. She is perfect, my mom replied.

Of course, my mother is always right.

What follows is, perhaps, a story for another time. The short version involves a long drive to San Antonio on a hot August night and a longer drive back, heavy with a name: Tetralogy of Fallot, in another time or place, a death sentence, but in this country in this era, a cause for great hope. It includes months of struggling to keep a colicky baby calm, battling with pediatricians, and praying for the survival of both of the loves of my life. Drawing to a climax with an open heart operation in her third month of life and denouement of the joyous reunion of our, now whole, little family…with the cliffhanger of a removed valve and a likely future operation.

This week’s Crazy Hip Blog Mamas carnival asks us to share the charitable cause dearest to my heart, a phrase I take quite literally.

Because Baby Diva was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, I first and foremost support the efforts of the American Heart Association. Heart Defects are one of the most common birth defects and are the leading cause of birth defect-related deaths and heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States. Yet, comparatively little money is put into researching the causes and treatments.

Although it is a much smaller organization, I would be remiss in not telling you a little more about For Hearts and Souls. This non-profit was started by one of the people who literally saved Baby Diva’s life, her cardiologist, Dr. Milhoan, a talented physician and a generous soul. As part of his work with the Air Force, he has screened Iraqi children for congenital heart defects and helped ensure those who would benefit from surgery got this life-saving treatment. He and his wife have started an amazing charity that helps children in communities all over the world. Dr. Milhoan uses his own vacation time to care for children at AIDS orphanages he has established and screens children for heart defects in Mongolia, Kosovo, and Mexico.

Baby Diva donated a portion of her gift money last year to these two charities.

Plain Jane Mom also responded to a Meme about the “Charities that matter to me…” and when I commented, told me to consider myself tagged. She already listed two of my top ones (Make a Wish and Ronald McDonald), which is wonderful because it leaves me free to list more. It is still so hard to choose just five! I cheated a little and blogged about one more charity on Mamanista!

The rules are simple, copy the list of charities and links (grab it from whomever tags you) and add your 5 favorite charities or non-profit organizations to the end (link to their sites with anchor text of the causes they champion). Of course finish things off by tagging 5 other webmasters/bloggers and then publishing the post or the webpage.

So here’s my list of charities:

  1. The American Heart Association: research to understand and heal hearts
  2. For Hearts and Souls: a chance at life for children in impoverished communities
  3. Sew Much Comfort: customized clothing for injured heroes
  4. Children of Fallen Soldiers Relief Fund: provide for the child of a fallen hero
  5. Doctors Without Borders: delivers emergency medical aid to those in direst need

And here’s the original list:

  1. LDS Humanitarian Services – donate to charity
  2. American Red Cross – emergency response
  3. Wasatch Homeless Health Care Incorporated/4th Street Clinic – health care for the homeless
  4. Newborns in Need – knitting for preemies
  5. Habitat for Humanity
  6. American Red Cross – disaster relief
  7. Raleigh Rescue Mission – homeless raleigh
  8. SOS Children’s Villages – sponsor a child
  9. Samaritan’s Purse – emergency relief programs
  10. St. Jude Children’s Hospital – cancer research
  11. The Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation – children with AIDS
  12. Make a Wish Foundation – grant a child’s wish
  13. Save the Children – children in poverty
  14. Ronald McDonald House – helping sick children and families
  15. Toys for Tots – toys for all kids

And I tag:

  1. PHAT Mommy
  2. Daddy Forever (I know you are probably Meme’d out, but I though you might want toget tagged on this one)
  3. Momomax
  4. Girl’s Gone Child
  5. Homefront Six