Book of Dreams: Gifts for pediatric heart patients a holiday boost

12/11/2013 7:06 PM

10/08/2014 11:27 AM

For years, The Sacramento Bee's holiday drive has sought to help those in need in the capital region. Today, we start a new series of tales of hope and generosity.

Brianna Montelongo listened to her favorite band, Ghost Town, as the haze of anesthesia wore off from her open heart surgery.

The normally soft-spoken 16-year-old sang along as medical staff at Sutter Children’s Center, Sacramento, at Sutter Memorial Hospital bustled around her last month. When Child Life Specialist Sara Anderson had learned of Brianna’s love of the band, she used an iTunes gift card to download the album onto an iPad available to patients in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

Two days later, Brianna was using the iPad once more, playing games before settling in for a nap so her body could continue to heal.

The technology – and sense of normalcy – comes to the hospital courtesy of Angels for Hearts, a local nonprofit that works with area hospitals to provide gifts to pediatric heart patients, up to age 18, to aid in their recovery and lift their spirits during the holiday season.

The group also gave Brianna a $75 gift card after learning from nurses that the high school junior’s laptop broke.

Brianna beamed as she thanked Angels for Hearts founder Kimberly Kaufman for helping make her hospital stay more pleasant.

“It’s really comfortable here,” she said. “Everyone’s really nice and hopeful.”

This year, the organization has asked the Book of Dreams for help purchasing specialized wheelchairs that look like race cars for the pediatric units at Sutter Children’s Center, UC Davis Children’s Hospital and the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.

Kaufman and her family know firsthand that there is no normalcy when it comes to having a child hospitalized or diagnosed with a chronic illness like a heart issue.

Kaufman is a heart patient, though diagnosed as an adult. The group does all it can to ensure that patients’ and families’ “wishes, wants and needs” are met during hospital stays.

“This is one less thing for parents to worry about, especially at Christmas,” Kaufman said. “If your child has been in the hospital for days or weeks or months and the parents have had to take a leave of absence or reduce their work schedule, they’re not thinking about Santa. Heart kids are kids first and foremost ... so they’re thinking about Santa, and if Santa will find them in the hospital.”

Anderson, of Sutter Children’s Center, said the organization’s efforts around the holidays are a huge help for the hospital, as well as a spirit lifter for patients and their families.

“Christmas is a hard time of year to have a hospitalized child,” she said. “This gives the children joy and connects parents with other families. It’s a big deal.”

Needed: Six race-car wheelchairs.

Total: $5,000.

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