Paying It Forward

It took Michelle Diliberto and her husband three years to conceive a child, so when their son, Logan, was born, they could not have been happier.

But a few days later, Logan’s pediatrician detected a heart murmur and referred them to Michael Snyder, M.D., an associate clinical professor in Columbia’s Division of Pediatric Cardiology.

“We’re a family that didn’t think we could have a child,” says Diliberto, who lives in Stamford, Connecticut. “Then we have this beautiful, sweet child and learn he needs heart surgery. It is overwhelming.”

Logan was born with two holes in his heart: an atrial septal defect and a ventricular septal defect. Congenital heart abnormalities like these are the most common type of major birth defect, but not all of them require surgery. In this case, however, Dr. Snyder believed both of Logan’s defects would need to be surgically closed before his first birthday.

This was a lot for a new mother to take in just a few days after giving birth, but Diliberto was reassured by Dr. Snyder.

“The thing about Michael Synder that is so amazing,” she says, “is he was so good at explaining it to us.”

After a lot of research and consideration, the Dilibertos determined CUMC was the best place to have Logan’s surgery. Dr. Ralph Mosca, associate professor of surgery at the time, performed the procedure. Diliberto recalls “how fantastic it was as a parent that I could call, and the surgeon would actually call me back.”

More than a decade later, she still gets nervous thinking about the days leading up to the procedure, which she describes as the scariest time of her life.

“I can look at pictures of Logan in the hospital, I can talk about it, and I don’t cry, I don’t get upset—until I think about the moment where they took him down the hall,” she says. “Because you don’t know if you’re getting him back.”

But, she adds, “Coming to Columbia and knowing that Dr. Snyder would be there for us was a huge comfort.”

Now Logan is a happy, gregarious, and energetic 11-year-old who recently started middle school and is learning to play squash. He does not have to take medication and, with a little luck, he will never need surgery again.

“If you could see my son today,” she says, “you would have no idea that he went through any of this.”

Logan’s experience encouraged Diliberto and her husband, Michael, to help other children born with heart abnormalities. Both are now board members of the Babies Heart Fund, which works to raise awareness for pediatric heart disease and, in particular, raises funds to support the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at CUMC. The Babies Heart Fund was founded in 1986 by a group of parents, the Minio and Roskind families who, like the Dilibertos, were touched by the care their children received from Columbia pediatricians.

“To me, giving us back our precious son was the most amazing gift that Columbia gave to us. And so we just try to give back as much as we can,” she says.

Over the past decade since their son’s surgery, the Dilibertos have held their own celebration and fundraiser on Logan’s birthday called “Loganpalooza”—raising some $20,000 to support the Babies Heart Fund. Michelle also devotes time to speaking individually with local parents whose children have been diagnosed with congenital heart disease.

“Any time you have to open your child up it’s a scary thing,” she says, but to other mothers who may be faced with this diagnosis, she gives a simple message. “There is hope. I feel like if people are coming to Columbia, they are in the best hands.”

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