Young heart patients, families gather at UNC


— Hundreds of pediatric heart patients and their families are expected to attend Saturday's 20th annual Healthy Hearts Reunion on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus.

Each year about 250 children receive surgery to correct congenital cardiac defects at N.C. Children's Hospital, and each year the Children's Hospital reunites patients and families with their care teams and one another at the Healthy Hearts Reunion, sponsored by the Carolina Parent Network.

"We really saw a need for more pre- and post-surgical support for parents," says Maggie Morris of the network, a family support program established by UNC's Divisions of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Pediatric Cardiology in 1987. "Who better to lend support than families who've already been through the harrowing experience of having a child undergo heart surgery?"

From 25 families, the network has grown to more than 1,000 families trained to offer parent-to-parent assistance and support. The reunion was initially held in a hospital cafeteria. As attendance grew, it moved to the Children's Hospital lobby and later to The Farm, at 1 Alice Ingram Circle on the UNC-CH campus.

"The children enjoy the clowns and balloons and face painters, but it's really the opportunity to reconnect that is most powerful to these families," Morris said. "To share experiences and updates and visit with the doctors and nurses and other staff who cared for them, that's what keeps the families coming back."

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