weekend scene

Island-style fun as seen
through the camera’s eye

Kardiac Kids have
hearts in right spot

The group helps families deal
with kids' heart defects

Six-year-old Keegan Passos ran around an open, grassy area at the Honolulu Zoo in an oversize white T-shirt.

"He's awesome," said his mother, Julie.

Keegan and 56 other children who suffer from serious heart conditions celebrated life yesterday at a Valentine's Day party at the zoo. Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children and the American Heart Association of Hawaii hosted the celebration for the Kardiac Kids support group.

Keegan was born without a main pulmonary artery. Surgeons put in an artificial valve to correct the heart condition. Since Keegan was 6 months old, he has undergone three open-heart surgeries and five stent procedures to hold his artery open and help improve his blood flow.

Keegan also had a pacemaker placed in his abdomen after he suffered a congestive heart block.

Many parents said the Kardiac Kids group gave them comfort that they were not alone as they went through the agony of wondering whether their child would overcome one or multiple open-heart surgeries.

For Passos the group helped her realize other families faced similar fears.

"We didn't know anything about Kardiac Kids. You're all of a sudden put in a world that no one understands," said Passos. "(In the support group) you're normal."

Passos said she learned of the group when she met Naomi Fujii at San Diego Children's Hospital. Fujii's son, Jarin, was born March 13, 1997, with a congenital heart defect. During a 1998 surgery to close a hole and put in a new valve, doctors discovered air bubbles in his heart.

After a 12-hour surgery, the bubbles disappeared, but Jarin suffered brain damage that affected most of his physical and mental skills. Through the years, Jarin, now 7, has slowly improved. He can slightly move his arms and can communicate with his parents through facial expressions.

Fujii said the support group has become an extension of her own family.

"You just get this bond that's unbreakable," she said.

Shari Ogata is the pillar of stability for her 17-month-old son, Noah, who received heart surgery at 2 1/2 months. The Ogatas, along with other families, attended the Kardiac Kids annual Valentine's Day Celebration at the Honolulu Zoo yesterday. Kardiac Kids is an organization that helps parents find resources and support for children with congenital heart defects and diseases. Every second Tuesday of the month, the group meets at the Kapiolani Hospital cafeteria, and anyone interested can attend.

Karalene Saleapaga, 2 months, received a nuzzle from her mother, Marv. The newborn baby underwent a successful heart surgery when she was only 5 days old.

Davis Peniette, 4, received a gentle touch from Betty Hill and a kiss from his father, Robert. Peniette has undergone five heart surgeries. "He's a miracle," said his father.

Kaiden Saleapaga, 1 1/2, peered through a chair at the Kardiac Kids Annual Valentine's Day Celebration held at the Honolulu Zoo yesterday. Both he and his sister, Karalene, 2 months, were born with congenital heart defects and have undergone heart surgeries to correct them.


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