Written by Bill Bittar.
P.J. and Nicole Corbesato of Shelton are in Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of New York Presbyterian with their 2-year-old-daughter Isabella Faith, who recently underwent her third and final staged open heart surgery. After the toddler recovers, the couple will be able to return home.
Their youngest daughter, Ava Hope, nine months, had her second open heart surgery in April and is being prepped for her third.
Both siblings were born with a congenital heart defect called Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
"Some need another transplant and others make into their 20's and do well with half a heart after the three surgeries and minor procedures and can have a full life," Nicole Corbesato said.
When Isabella was born, doctors told the Corbesatos about the high mortality rate and instant surgery for babies born with this condition, but the couple did their own research before deciding to carry out the pregnancy.
"When we had Ava they pushed us even more not to have the pregnancy, because we already had one," Nicole Corbesato said of having a child with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome.
The couple looked into fetal intervention to try to fix Ava's heart before she was born, but Corbesato said their daughter wasn't a candidate for the procedure.Nicole and P.J., who grew up in Monroe and had been an EMS volunteer in town, will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary in February. Nicole was a hairdresser in Fairfield for 11 years before going on maternity leave to give birth to Bella. She has been a stay-at-home mom ever since.
P.J. works for the Port Jefferson Ferry.
Aside from paying for their daughters' surgeries, Nicole Corbesato said they take their children to a cardiologist twice a month until their hearts are ready for the procedures.
The couple recently held an online fundraiser to help pay the medical bills.
"It’s the very first time," Corbesato said of appealing to others for help. "Financially, it’s incredibly difficult. It went from both of us working in an affluent town, then I lost my condo in Derby I'd lived in before we got married. Both of our lives were turned upside down."
'I Cried. I was very Touched by it.'
Generous donors contributed $9,467 to the Corbesato'sGiveForward page. They received 96 donations in all and there is still time to give.
"At first, every time I went on there I looked at, not what people gave, but what they wrote," Corbesato said. "I cried. I was very touched by it ... and I still am."
Among the comments are:
"Your girls are beautiful! Keeping Isabella, Ava and their family in our prayers."
"Your story touched my heart. You are all in my prayers."
Corbesato said, "I've actually sent out personal emails to every one of them, telling them how thankful we were for their support and for taking the time to read about our story and educate themselves on it."
More fundraisers may soon be in the Corbesatos' future.
Nicole's former employer, Moda Capelli's in Fairfield, wants to host a cut-a-thon and her cousin, who is applying to be a Bridgeport police officer, befriended officers who are talking about organizing a motorcycle ride to raise funds for the family.
Faith and Hope
Other than Isabella and Ava's lips sometimes turning cold and blue when they are not as oxygenated, Corbesato said one would never know her girls are living with a heart defect.
In fact, Isabella is so energetic that Corbesato said she often has a hard time keeping up with her.
"She has that fighting spirit," Corbesato said. "A lot of kids go into heart failure or are very tired and lethargic — and she's never had that. She fought through it. Her body adjusted and you would never have known it."
While Isabella is the "wild, energetic and very determined one", her sister Ava is "snuggly" and "cuddly", according to Corbesato.
"She definitely seems more laid back, but it's too early to tell," Corbesato said of her youngest daughter. "I brought her home from the hospital after her first surgery and, instead of putting her in the bassinet, I slept with her on the couch. And she snuggled right up to me."