A STORY OF PERSEVERANCE AND HEART
By Ariel Armanino
Only hours after Brooklyn Bertilacchi was born, she was flown via helicopter to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland. Here, she would begin her lifelong relationship with the hospital’s amazing doctors, nurses, and staff. Much to her family’s surprise, Brooklyn was born with a congenital heart defect called pulmonary valve stenosis that was undetected during pregnancy. “Needless to say, as soon as Brooklyn was born our world was turned upside down,” said her mother, Katie. In the last three years since Brooklyn was born, she has undergone a plethora of procedures, including three balloon cardiac catheterizations, as well as an open-heart surgery to place a patch to widen the pulmonary valve. This last surgery, however, was only a temporary fix, and Brooklyn will need to receive a valve transplant within the coming years.
Despite the ongoing surgeries, Brooklyn hasn’t lost an ounce of her free spirit and spunky personality. The 3-year-old loves to sing and dance, play with her two siblings, and could spend hours on the beach with her toes in the sand. She’s described by her family as fun-loving, outgoing, and feisty! “Since the day she was born all of her doctors and nurses have told us how feisty she is, which has helped her greatly along this journey,” said Katie.
Brooklyn has undergone the majority of her treatment in Oakland, but with the recent development of a new Heart Clinic near St. Joseph’s Hospital, the Bertilacchi family looks forward to being able to have local access to some of the nation’s top pediatric cardiologists in the nation. “Having this access located right in Stockton helps ease the travel time for patients and families who would otherwise have to take off time from work to travel to clinics located outside of Stockton,” said Katie. “I personally used to have to take a whole day off of work to travel to Walnut Creek or the Oakland clinic for monthly checkups.” And the local access is likely to have a profound impact on the lives of many Valley residents, as congenital heart defects are the most common form of birth defects. In fact, 1 in every 100 children is born with congenital heart disease, which often accompanies severe conditions requiring ongoing surgical and medical care.
The community has been immensely supportive of Brooklyn and her journey. “Since the day Brooklyn was born, community members-whether it’s friends, acquaintances, or complete strangers who have heard about Brooklyn’s story- have continuously offered us their support and prayers,” said Katie. The community has also been hugely supportive of Katie’s annual fundraising efforts, which she calls “Go Red for Brooklyn.” Taking place every February, which is Heart Awareness Month, Katie aims to raise awareness for congenital heart disease, as well as funds to be donated to the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland—the amazing place that has played such an instrumental role in Brooklyn’s journey.
Katie’s fundraising first began as a small Facebook fundraiser the first year. Last year, she opted for a GoFundMe drive, which collected over $2,000 in donations for the children’s hospital. “This year we would like to be our best yet! And we are partnering with Lincoln Center to make this happen,” said Katie. During the month of February and through March 15, community members can visit any participating store and make a donation. The first 100 people who make a donation of $25 or more will receive a thank you gift from Brooklyn of a metal heart, made from a wine barrel ring. Donations can also be made online at givingtogether.ucsf.edu/GoRedForBrooklyn. All donations are tax-deductible and benefit the Heart Center at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.