Patient Care

Heart Patient Families Unite as Pack for Zoo Event

Jul. 25, 2011
Local Mended Little Hearts chapter partners with Golisano Children’s Hospital for event

Mended Little Hearts of Greater Rochester is partnering with Golisano Children’s Hospital at the University of Rochester Medical Center for the Hearts Go Wild picnic, a chance for families of children with heart conditions to meet and support one another. The picnic will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Seneca Park Zoo.

Families will get to enjoy the zoo together, as well as a barbecue dinner and desserts. The event gives families a chance to socialize with doctors and nurses from Golisano Children’s Hospital’s Children’s Heart Center in a fun, more celebratory atmosphere. Patients and families can also meet others who are dealing with similar heart-related issues.

"Heart problems are relatively rare in children and often families have not met another other child who has heart disease,” said Jennifer Tillou, pediatric social worker at Golisano Children’s Hospital.

Tillou helps families cope with stress and work through the difficult decisions that can come with having a child diagnosed with heart problems. Tillou also assists families from near and far find close places to stay when their child undergoes medical procedures and makes sure families are linked with resources and support during their child's hospital stay.

Tillou and Roger Vermilion, M.D., chief of Pediatric Cardiology at Golisano Children’s Hospital, hold the Heart Center picnic every year to lend extra emotional support to families. This year, the local chapter of Mended Little Hearts has stepped in to host the event in partnership with the Heart Center.

Mended Little Hearts of Greater Rochester Founder, Jennifer Kowal, is leading the charge in coordinating this year’s event. Kowal started the local chapter after her daughter, Claire Elizabeth, was diagnosed in utero with an underdeveloped heart. She saw there was not a local support group, so she and Tillou looked for a national branch to bring to Rochester and decided on Mended Little Hearts, a support program for parents of children with congenital heart defects and heart disease within Mended Hearts.

“Parents need the kind of support Mended Little Hearts offers,” said Kowal. “It’s just nice to meet people who understand how you feel when you have to comfort your child before they go into surgery.”

"Mended Little Hearts provides a network for families to connect with each other," said Tillou.  "Kids get to meet other kids who have had heart surgery, helping them not feel so alone."

Tickets for the Hearts Go Wild picnic are $15 for adults, $10 for children ages 3 to 11 and free for children and young adults who are heart patients. Register online at or call (585) 398-7112 by Monday, Aug. 1.