By the time Marana resident Brendan Pajor was two months old, he’d already undergone two open heart surgeries. Now nearing his first birthday, Brendan is doing well, though there are some lasting effects from his journey so far.
Brendan is one roughly 40,000 babies born each year with a congenital heart defect, ranging in severity from relatively small threats to those requiring immediate surgery, according to The Children’s Heart Foundation.
While the origins and symptoms of the illness have become better understood by medical professionals, there is some ground to be made in the public’s understanding.
To better bridge that gap, Brendan’s mother, Jennifer Pajor, recently approached the Town of Marana to ask if something could be done to draw attention to CHDs.
Her wish was granted last Tuesday when the Marana Town Council spent a few minutes before diving into the intricacies of sign code and budget priorities to proclaim the week of Feb. 7 through Feb. 14 as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week, urging the community to better understand the illness and the research being done to save the lives of countless young children.
While some proclamations are simply filed away with the town clerk, the gesture was bestowed upon Jennifer for informing council members about the challenges she and others face.
“I feel like they care about this issue, and that they are willing to bring more awareness to a situation that’s really near and dear to my heart,” she said.
Receiving recognition from a municipality is helpful, though Jennifer said she’s also received outreach support from local organizations like Congenital Heart Defect Families of Tucson.
CHD Families of Tucson was founded by best friends and “Heart Moms” Stacy Lipinczyk and Melissa Nail—both of whom have children with critical congenital heart defects requiring surgery in the first few months of their lives to survive.
Nail said she and Lipinczyk were interested in pooling their resources together to create an organization that would provide support to other women like them.
Now a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, CHD Families of Tucson provides educational, emotional and financial support to families with children born with heart defects.
“I think that motherhood can be isolating in general,” Nail said. “But when you have a family member that has a really unique illness, it’s easier for us to relate to one another.”
The organization provides educational support in the form of panels filled by local cardiologists so that CHD families can have their questions answered. Families can also request financial assistance to help cover groceries, bills and other essentials.
While financial backing and educational opportunities are important, Nail said CHD Families of Tucson’s valuable resource is its network of parents—a community of individuals who can provide advice from their own experiences.
“Aside from getting help with finances or learning a little more, ultimately it means so much to know that there’s a group of people that you can go to and ask a question,” Nail said. “It’s just so good to not feel like you’re alone.”
Support can be invaluable, and CHD Families of Tucson’s network of community partners grew last week when Marana Mayor Ed Honea delivered his town’s proclamation.
Honea said he personally knows several individuals raising children with a CHD, and was moved by Jennifer’s desire to draw awareness to the illness.
“When a young woman who has had a child that’s been ill lives in your community and wants to draw awareness to that illness, I think we’re obligated to do that,” Honea said. “What did it take, 10 minutes out of our night?”
For more information about CHD Families of Tucson, visit chdtucson.org.