Story, Donor, Patient

A Lasting Legacy

May 14, 2024

young man with blue hair smiling

In 1994, when 9-week-old Noah received a heart transplant, he was among the first pediatric patients at Children’s Hospital Colorado to undergo this surgery. He was also one of the youngest to get a new heart at the hospital.

Not only was this surgery on such a small baby extremely rare at the time, but research on cardiac transplant outcomes was also still in its infancy. The long-term physical and mental health impacts of major surgeries on kids like Noah were just beginning to be studied.

In the decades since, physician-scientists at Children’s Colorado have made great leaps in their understanding of congenital heart conditions. They have also significantly advanced cardiac surgeries needed to save kids’ lives, with the hospital performing its 500th heart transplant in 2023.

Noah’s story has inspired his family to invest philanthropically in the Children’s Colorado Heart Institute to ensure this progress continues.

A Challenging Childhood

As a talented artist who enjoyed drawing Powerpuff Girls© and horses as a young boy, Noah loved being creative and spending time with his family. In middle school, he struggled with his grades and experienced challenges. But over the coming years, Noah discovered a new passion and attended cosmetology school after graduating from high school. Like many kids who have transplants or multiple surgeries and intense medical interventions, Noah’s life involved numerous doctor’s appointments. He required daily anti-rejection medicine, and he also underwent additional heart procedures and surgeries. The toll of these surgeries, as well as all other aspects of lifelong treatment, started to affect him mentally. He grew up knowing he would eventually either need a new heart or that he’d be required to take intense medications for the rest of his life.

Despite the support of his loving family and a dedicated medical team at Children’s Colorado, Noah found himself navigating a lonely and daunting emotional journey. Eventually, when he was 20 years old, Noah decided to stop taking his anti-rejection medicine. He wanted to live the rest of his life on his own terms, without medicine and the expectation of another major surgery.

On April 21, 2015, Noah passed away.

“I can’t help but wonder how everything he went through as a baby affected him later,” said Annette, Noah’s mom. “When your child is young, we navigate the school years with them. They may have these learning issues when they’re younger, but when they’re older, that can affect their self-esteem and their ability to have relationships.” 

I will always remember Noah as independent, introspective, and thoughtful. His potential in life was obvious to everyone around him. His family and friends were deeply important to him, but his depression was too severe to overcome his decision to stop taking his medication. His story stays with us in the hopes that we can do better for all of our patients that come after him.

Auerbach, MD, pediatric cardiology, who treated Noah in his late teens

Noah’s Lasting Legacy

Noah made an impact on everyone around him, and he had an especially unique and close relationship with his aunt Holly. As she choked back tears, Holly fondly recalled teaching Noah to drive and attending a Van Gogh art exhibit together. When Noah passed away, Holly wanted to honor his memory so other families would not have to experience the loss that hers had.

When Noah was a boy, the Heart Institute had not yet established its Wellness Program, which helps patients, and their families find healthy ways to cope with and adapt to living with a heart condition.

Through Holly’s Ventimiglia Family Foundation, she and her family generously donated $900,000 to Children’s Colorado Heart Institute Wellness Program, general cardiac care, and cardiac research. “The Wellness Program is a big focal point for us,” said Holly, “because kids need psychological support to help them deal with their heart conditions.  It’s not an easy journey.”

Both Holly and Annette want the Ventimiglia Family Foundation gift to inspire others to give and impact the lives of patients and families at Children’s Colorado.

“I hope that we can continue to help kids from a young age and treat them specifically for the life they’re going to live,” said Annette. “They need to learn how to cope and deal with medical challenges their entire life. I hope we can have more psychologists who are trained to help these kids in an age-appropriate way.”