A few months ago, 9-year-old Natalia Castellucio was an Oswego Warrior cheerleader and a carefree child.
This lifestyle came to a quick halt as her family learned that her heart was failing. Despite this life-threatening situation and the frustrations of not being able to just be a kid, Natalia is now focused on bringing some joy to other sick kids.
July 16 is a date Michelle Castellucio, Natalia’s mom, will remember forever. Natalia blacked out, hitting her head and requiring stitches. Tests to determine the cause of the blackout found a heart murmur and an enlarged left atrium. Four cardiologists and numerous tests later, some hours-long and requiring sedation, Michelle learned just weeks ago that Natalia will eventually require a heart transplant.
Natalia, who now lives with her family in Yorkville, has restrictive cardiomyopathy. This condition makes it difficult for the heart to fill with blood. Over time, the heart “loses the ability to pump blood properly, leading to heart failure.”
“Natalia is only in early stages at this point so she has to get sicker before she qualifies for a transplant list. It could be weeks, months, or even years before she gets to that point. We have no way to know yet,” Michelle explained.
In the meantime, Natalia has follow-up appointments with a local cardiologist and will return to Children’s Memorial in December to repeat tests.
Michelle said Natalia has “the most amazing attitude.”
While spending time in various hospitals, Natalia realized a difference in how staff was able to comfort the patients. One hospital provided her with a blanket to keep, which she thought was sweet. Other hospitals had nothing comforting to offer her or her 12-year-old brother, Anthony.
Natalia has been frustrated that she can’t participate in recess or gym and she’s stuck sitting in the school office. She’s kept herself busy doing crafts, Michelle said.
Natalia decided to constructively use this forced down time and do something to benefit others. She is selling her crafts to raise money to donate gifts to children going through major medical issues.
Michelle created a Facebook page to display and sell the crafts – which are mostly jewelry at this point. They are gathering items, hoping to host a local sale.
Michelle is making contacts and trying to locate the kids who most need the extra comforts.
Natalia hopes to “reach as many kids as possible and flood the hospitals with stuff,” Michelle said. “When kids are stuck in the hospital, they need a pick-me-up and to know that people care.”
These gifts would include items such as blankets or stuffed animals as well as games or craft projects that are simple and portable. A sibling bag would include items to help pass the time such as games, puzzles and books.
Natalia named her project “Hearts of Joy” because it is her heart that is the problem and she hopes to bring joy to others in need, Michelle explained.
The community can help Natalia:
- Make crafts and donate them either to be sold or as gifts for the sick children
- Donate craft supplies or gift cards to craft stores
- Donate time to assist with a sale
- Spread the word
“I don’t know how big this can get, but I will do everything I can to encourage it. This is keeping Natalia positive and keeping her mind off things,” Michelle said.
“This project means the world to her at this point,” Michelle said. “She told me the other night after saying her prayers that maybe this is the plan and purpose that God has for her, to help other sick kids who are in need.”
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the hometown of Natalia and her family.