Christopher Olivadotti was just 2 days old when he had his first open heart surgery. There would be three more before he was out of toddlerhood.
Christopher is a survivor. He’s now 9 years old — one of the lucky ones who survived a complex and rare heart defect called Right Hypoplastic Right Heart syndrome, a condition where the right side of the heart is underdeveloped.
There is a small tribute to his strength that lays at the foot of his bed, his mother says. It’s a quilt, a small hand-made token of admiration from a stranger moved to acknowledge the fight for a lifetime undertaken by an infant she, or he, had never met.
The blanket was given to Christopher upon leaving the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where the young boy survived the multiple surgeries to repair his tiny heart.
“It was such a generous token,’’ said Alexandra Scheininger, Christopher’s mother. “We were just so grateful.’’
Now, Scheininger, of Long Branch, is repaying that appreciation by collecting blankets for other patients of the hospital’s pediatric cardiac unit.
She calls her mission “Blankets for Love,’’ and for the second year running has set up collection centers around Monmouth County to receive donated blankets, to be delivered to the Philadelphia hospital next month.
Scheininger said last year, the first year, she collected about 500 blankets, more than she expected.
“People are really generous when it comes to kids,’’ she said.
Scheininger, a nurse who works for a Wall Township plastic surgeon, has set up numerous collection sites in Wall and the surrounding area. She plans to collect the blankets until February 14, Valentine’s Day, when she'll deliver them to the cardiac unit.
The date was chosen specifically, Scheininger said, given the association with hearts. It also is National Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day, a day designated to raise awareness about children born with serious heart defects, like Christopher’s.
"February fourteenth is always a special day for us here in cardiac,'' said Sherry Polise, head of "Child Life'' at the CHOP cardiac unit. "That’s a great way to commemorate all of the brave kids and families who have stays here."
New or handmade blankets or quilts can be dropped off at the following locations:
- Dr. Michael Nagy, 1967 Route 34, Wall
- Rainbow Academy, 2319 Route 34, Wall
- Garrow Family Chiropractic, 2204 Route 35, Wall
- CAT Limo, 638 Route 9 South, Freehold
- Rainbow Academy, 357 Route 9 South, Manalapan
- Presman Jewlers, 58 Village Center, Freehold
- Twist, 1092 Route 34 South, Middletown
- Skin & Bones, 31 Church St., Little Silver
- LS Contractors, 316 Cedar Ave., Long Branch
- Shear Glamour, 984 Route 166, Toms River
- Sea Girt Borough Hall, Fourth Ave & Baltimore Blvd., Sea Girt