WALLINGFORD — This Sunday, Captiva Salon Paul Mitchell will offer $25 haircuts as part of its second annual “Haircut for Hearts” cut-a-thon for the Joe Abate Charitable Foundation.
From face painting to popcorn to raffle baskets, the haircut-a-thon raises money to support families of children with congenital heart defects.
“The opportunity to bring awareness to the disease and how many people it affects that we don’t realize, it’s wonderful,” said Janet Bombace, operations manager at Wallingford’s Captiva Salon. Congenital heart family
Nearly 40,000 babies are born with a congenital heart defect in the United States each year, according to March of Dimes.
The severity of the defects varies from person to person, with some immediately needing surgery while others recover without treatment. About 25% of babies born with a heart defect are considered critical and require extensive treatment.
Vice President of the Joe Abate Charitable Foundation, Steve Curran, explained that the foundation was established two years ago in memory of his son-in-law, Joe Abate, who was born with a ventricular septal defect in his heart.
According to the foundation’s website, Abate received his first heart operation at six days old and spent 30 days recovering in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Curran described Abate as very healthy. However, Abate’s heart condition followed him throughout life. Curran said Abate needed a second heart operation two months before he married Curran’s daughter, Meghan. Sadly, Abate died of cardiopulmonary arrest at 37 in December 2020.
A few months following Abate’s passing, Meghan created the foundation to support others with congenital heart defects and their families.
A congenital heart diagnosis sends shockwaves through the entire family and disrupts their everyday lives, Curran said.
For example, he explained that most pediatric patients have at least one family member at the foot of their hospital bed and as a result, many quit their jobs to be there and rely on others to make ends meet.
“You can see the dedication of the parents who are staying there for hours and hours and weeks and months and sometimes, unfortunately, a year. Imagine your life being disrupted for a year,” he said. “Sometimes you lose your job or you have to give up your job. You had financial issues or you have other kids to take care of.” Family Resource Fund
Curran said all the proceeds from “Haircut for Hearts” will be used for the foundation’s Family Resource Fund, which provides various forms of support for patients and their families in Yale New Haven Hospital’s Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit.
He explained that each family checked into the six-bed pediatric ICU receives a comfort bag full of essentials, such as snacks, Bigelow tea bags, phone chargers, blankets, puzzles and slippers. In addition, some packs have exercise bands and training plans so parents can exercise without leaving the hospital room.
“If you’ve seen these [pediatric ICU] rooms, you’re in a room that has unbelievable amounts of equipment and wires and so forth. Not very comfortable,” Curran said. “Not very homey so anything we could do to make their stay a little bit more comfortable.”
There are also items included in the comfort bags that are specifically for the baby, Curran said. For example, he said they recently started providing lightweight insulated blankets to keep the babies warm.
Lastly, he said Meghan includes a note in each comfort bag to remind the families that they aren’t alone.
“A lot of these people will go in feeling very isolated because their friends, even their families, don’t realize what they’re going through,” Curran said. “So, when you get a comfort bag and there’s a note from Meghan… it’s a gesture they know is there and that they can always contact the foundation.”
In addition to the comfort bag, each family is given parking and meal vouchers to cover the day-to-day expenses that build up when regularly visiting the hospital.
Curran said for those who need extra financial support, the children’s heart center social workers will connect them with the foundation.
Then, after assessing their needs, Curran said the foundation will help the family cover significant financial expenses such as mortgages, groceries and rent.
The financial relief to families is immense and is felt immediately, he said.
For example, Adam was a 2-year-old boy who spent nearly nine months waiting for a heart at the pediatric intensive care unit. Curran said Adam’s mom spent most of her days at the hospital with her son and slept at the nearby Ronald McDonald House. Adam’s grandmother left her job to care for his older siblings.
The foundation connected with the family to help cover their rent and groceries.
“[Adam] thinks nothing of the fact that someone has to walk behind him pushing the IV,” he said. “But, now he got to go home and live his life a little bit more normal.”Relief
Bombace estimated that they raised over $2,000 at last year’s haircut-a-thon and is hopeful that this year will result in a bigger turnout and more money raised.
The photographs of the families that last year’s “Haircut for Hearts” helped are displayed in the salon to bring awareness about congenital heart defects and their impact, Bombace said.
“Everyone knows someone who’s suffered from cancer or passed from cancer or heart disease. But, this disease that affects… the children who are infants and going through one and more or more surgeries. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.
“Haircuts for Hearts” is running Sunday, Mar. 26, from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. at Captiva Salon Paul Mitchell, 930 North Colony Road in Wallingford.
Reporter Cris Villalonga-Vivoni is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Support RFA reporters at the Record-Journal through a donation at https://bit.ly/3Pdb0re. To learn more about RFA, visit www.reportforamerica.org.