Child heart patients celebrate life

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More than 100 children with cardiac problems took the month of February to heart Tuesday, marking their successes with their families as well as a couple of celebrities.

The children and their families were joined by Miss USA Alyssa Campanella, Miss Teen USA Danielle Doty and television actor Matthew Settle at The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan to celebrate a normal life after lifesaving heart treatments and surgeries. It was the hospital's recognition of The American Heart Association's Heart Month.

"I like all the games you can play," said Michelle Cassata, 5, from Brooklyn, who wore a bright red skirt festooned with little white hearts. She was born with an atrioventricular canal defect and had to have two holes in her heart repaired. Tuesday, she ran around the party, healthy.

Most of the heart problems the hospital treats involve "plumbing and electricity," said Dr. Ira Parness, chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiology. Mount Sinai's program is one of the best known in the city, he said.

Roy Van Tassel, 37, brought his 17-month-old daughter Abigail, from Newfoundland, N.J., because Mount Sinai was where surgery repaired a newborn heart-valve problem.

For the 26th year, the rear of the hospital's Annenberg Building was covered in festive balloons and cutouts of cartoon characters. Tables lined the walls where volunteers from the nonprofit Project Sunshine served food, cupcakes and helped children with arts, crafts and makeup.

"I'm loving how relaxed and lively everyone is," said Campanella, who said she has had a few relatives suffer heart attacks. Together with Doty, they dispensed hugs and high-fives with the children and painted a few faces, as well.

"I would never know what these children were going through," she said. "They're very brave souls."

On the older end of the visitor list was Don Redfield of Poughkeepsie, 26, who received a lifesaving heart transplant as an infant -- in the first year of the Heart Month parties.

He attended the last five parties, and said that while he never learned who donated his healthy heart, he is good friends with doctors and nurses there.

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Project Sunshine, which has worked with the hospital for five years, is sometimes able to deliver celebrities. Settle, of "Gossip Girls" and "Band of Brothers," wore a yellow Project Sunshine T-shirt at the event. Eric Schubert, who played briefly with the Giants and other NFL teams in the 1980s, showed up at Mount Sinai a few years ago.

The event gave some survivors and their parents a chance to befriend and reassure those whose children were about to undergo heart procedures.

"It's great to know that you're not alone out there," Redfield said.

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