One group of San Diegans is celebrating real hearts – and the people who help heal them – this pre-Valentine’s Day weekend.
The Heart Institute at Rady Children’s Hospital celebrated its 30th annual Heart Party Saturday as heart patients and their families reunited with the institute's doctors and nurses.
Roughly 250 patients gathered at Rady Children’s to share their stories with others who have gone through the same struggles.
“It’s been fun too because what I’ve learned, I’ve been able to transfer over and help other people, and you know, if they’re having a hard time, we’ve been able to help each other, and it’s been great,” said Jerilyn Hammerstrom, whose son had heart surgery there 13 years ago.
Hammerstrom, her family and friends organize an annual fundraiser called Max & Jake’s Big Race to benefit the Heart Institute. This year’s fun run will be Feb. 22.
“We raise money for the heart institute because it’s hard to tell somebody ‘thank you’ for saving the life of your kid,” said Hammerstrom, “and so our way’s giving back by getting them equipment or helping bring the transplant department here or whatever we can do to help them make their jobs easier.”
The Heart Institute touts its status as the largest pediatric program in San Diego, Imperial and Orange counties.
Dr. John Lamberti, the director of the institute, said after three decades, the hospital is ready to venture into a new aspect of cardiac surgery.
“The hospital’s grown, the community’s grown, our program has grown, and now we’re on the verge of doing heart transplants, so we’re really excited,” said Lamberti.
Heart transplant surgery at Rady Children's is expected to begin this year. In 2013, the hospital performed more than 500 heart operations.