Written by Jill Nossa Wednesday, 16 October 2013 00:00
Heart patients awaiting surgery often have a long road ahead of them, and the ordeal can put a lot of strain on their families. A local mom and daughter who know firsthand the struggles that coincide with heart disease are devoting their time and energy to helping others through the Harboring Hearts organization.
Michelle Javian,co-founder and CEO of Harboring Hearts, started the organization in honor of her father, who lost his battle to heart disease after a heart transplant in 2008. Both she and her mother, Mary, of Upper Brookville, spent long ours by his side in the hospital. While there they witnessed firsthand the need that existed for refuge and community support for heart patients and their families.
“We saw how people who traveled to New York from all over were eating unhealthy, were sleeping in the lobby because they couldn’t afford hotels...it was my mother who started helping by bringing in breakfast to the families and patients,” says Michelle.
“The money runs out after awhile...there’s no money for hotels or food...some people can’t pay their hospital bills. There was a need for the support,” says Mary.
Living in New York City and Long Island, Michelle says, “We were the fortunate ones because of our proximity to the hospital.”
Michelle’s father was first at North Shore-LIJ, then at New York Presbyterian Hospital. She met Harboring Hearts co-founder Yuki Kotani through mutual friends while both of their fathers were going through heart transplant surgery. After realizing the need for support for families - both financial and emotional - the two co-founded Harboring Hearts in April 2009 in devotion to the memory of their fathers memory.
“With heart disease, things can happen overnight. One minute you’re fine and the next...you just never know,” says Michelle, explaining the need for support for these patients and families. It is not something you can plan for, and with the cost of surgery and in many cases, travel, the disease can take a toll in many ways.
Harboring Hearts is the only nonprofit organization specifically dedicated to providing affordable, short-term housing for the heart patients and their families that travel to New York City for lifesaving medical treatment. Harboring Hearts’ aim is to help families create a home-like haven as well as access the informative and nurturing resources necessary to enhance their well-being as they attend to the needs associated with serious cardiac disease and care.
“We have helped hundreds of families in emergency situations, and thousands of others through community events,” says Michelle.
One of the first families they helped was a single mother from Trinidad with 5-year-old twin boys. The boys both needed heart transplants, and after they were released from the hospital, they were living in a shelter because they had nowhere else to go.
“It was upsetting,” says Michelle. “That’s the worst place you can go when recovering from a major surgery.”
Harboring Hearts helped them get an apartment and helped the mother get a job. She says they helped another family from New Hyde Park keep their home by paying their mortgage.
At first, the organization was open to helping many of those who contacted them. Now, they are more “official;” all patients receiving donations are screened by social workers, and the donations are decided upon on a case by case basis and must be approved.
Michelle says they raise money through diverse outlets, such as fundraising and community events. Currently, they are seeking a grant, and they recently held an online campaign that raised $30,000 in a week.
This weekend, those interested can support the cause at Oktoberfest, on Saturday, Oct. 19. The event includes dinner, German dancers, beer tastings, oompa music and a sing along at Plattduetsche Park Restaurant, at 1132 Hempstead Turnpike, Franklin Square, from 7:30 p.m. to midnight. Tickets are $80 and proceeds will benefit Harboring Hearts. Visit www.haboringhearts.org for more information.