Sixty-two year old Portland resident Judy Bevilacqua spent most of her life dedicated to her husband, home and children -- she had no regrets and she did well. But two years ago -- while thumbing through a "ladies magazine" in her doctor's waiting room -- she came to the uncomfortable realization that she knew little about herself. She didn't like this feeling. But she turned her moment of discontent into a quest to fulfill her unlived dreams. And she turned one of her dreams into a gift that will, over the coming year, save the lives of as many as 175 children touched by the Chernobyl accident. This is her story:
When Judy started to feel her rumblings of dissatisfaction, her good friend Nikki suggested that she start to keep a journal of her dreams. (Nikki, along with Judy's daughter Rebekah, are pictured with Judy above.) Her husband, Jack, further encouraged her to turn to turn her dreams into action. He told Margie Boule in last month's issue of The Oregonian, "It was a wonderful thing to read her dream book and help remove the obstacles that might keep her heart from being alive."
One of Judy's dreams was to swim Hood Canal. Not a natural athlete, she trained hard and found it difficult and monotonous. To spark her motivation, she went back to her dream book, and saw that one of her dreams was to help children with birth defects. She realized that she could accomplish two dreams with one swim.
Judy's friend Steve Cagan, of Restoring Hope Foundation of Southern California, had raised $20,000 in a Chocolate Festival last year, and donated those funds to Chernobyl Children's Project International for a life saving children's cardiac surgery program in Belarus. Hearing about this program, Judy found her inspiration.
On September 1st, with her husband rowing beside her and holding up laminated photos of Belarusian children in need of heart surgery, and sponsors and supporters cheering her from the shore, Judy pushed her limits and swam two miles for the children of Belarus. "I don't have to be a Michael Jordan or a marathon runner. I can just be an elderly housewife who wanted to do this one little thing. I have a mission."
Today, 2500 - 3000 children are on a waiting list to receive surgery to repair genetic defects of their hearts. These defects have increased in incidence since the disaster in 1986. Chernobyl Children's Project International has funded Dr. William Novick and a team of volunteers to go to Belarus to perform these surgeries and train local physicians. Hundreds of lives have been saved through this program.
Judy's donation will be used to purchase a Somanetics Cerebral Oximeter -- a piece of equipment that will allow surgeons to non invasively monitor oxygen levels in a young patient's brain and kidneys while they are on bypass during surgery. In doing so, surgical teams will be able to tell -- before the damage is done -- if the child is in danger of going into heart failure. We are purchasing this equipment right now, and Dr. Novick will take it to Belarus at the end of next month. The equipment will save as many as 175 young lives a year.
I think the best way to end this post is with a photo of one of the children who has benefited from cardiac surgery in Belarus. More photos are in the gallery to the left of this page. We'll report back in December when the Cerebral Oximeter arrives and goes to work.