HHF_031The heart of a lion – despite having only half a heart…
Joseph Tavares

How do you explain to a 9 year-old that the scar down his chest doesn’t make him different; it makes him special. That even though he feels like he can run all day, he does need to rest, just a little bit.

As Melinda Tavares looks at her son, she shakes her head to dispel a memory. “To look at our Joseph, you would have no idea that he has a heart defect and that we almost lost him when he went into cardiac arrest at just four hours old.”

Joseph has Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and was born with an underdeveloped left atrium, left ventricle, aorta and mitral valve. Just after his birth, the nurses were giving Joseph a bath when he went into cardiac arrest; he was immediately medivaced to Boston Children’s Hospital for his first open heart surgery. Since that first procedure, Joseph has had three additional open heart surgeries and four other heart operations. “Not a moment goes by that I don’t forget what Joseph has endured. He’s my brave lion!”

Today, Joseph is a happy second grader, with boundless energy and full of life. He loves dancing, especially hip-hop, Legos, Minecraft, and playing sports like his 15 year-old brother. “Last spring he was the catcher for his little league team and blew everyone away when he caught every inning of the first 6 games. This would be a feat for a healthy child, never mind one with half a heart!” Melinda brags. “We have always wanted Joseph to explore and be active. I have my fears, but he needs to make his own way and be around all sorts of people. He deserves the same opportunities as his older brother and every other child.”

Joseph was so excited to be invited to attend Gabrielle’s Heart Camp; to make new friends and to have fun away from home. Melinda, on the other hand, was a wreck. “I was panicked and fearful for many reasons, but the moment I walked in, the staff made me feel so calm and comfortable with dropping him off,” she recalls. And three days later at pick up, seeing the smile on Joseph’s face, the high-fives from new friends, she knew she had made the right decision. “I would never allow Joseph to attend a ‘regular’ camp. It is a huge blessing that Gabrielle’s Heart Camp was here for us so that he could experience something ‘regular’ kids do. That other families take for granted.”

Melinda was also extremely appreciative of the learning element of Gabrielle’s Heart Camp; to help Joseph learn more about living with his heart disorder. “He needs to understand his condition so that he can answer other kids questions. So that as he grows older he knows when to push himself and his limits.” Gabrielle’s Heart Camp has helped Melinda let go, just a little bit. “I can see Joseph’s confidence growing, his spirit and determination. He has such a bright future ahead of him. And that’s all a parent could ever want.”