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Phoenix Children's Hospital hosts 'graduation' for heart patients

Attendees of the "graduation" ceremony wave. (KTAR Photo/Bob McClay)

PHOENIX -- Thursday was "Graduation Day" at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

More than 20 heart patients under seven months old all got diplomas declaring that it is now safe for them to go home.

PCH Chief Cardiologist Dr. Stephen Pophall said the kids were among the sickest of the sick.

"Everyone's heart is supposed to have four chambers and four valves," he said. "Many of those children have only two chambers and only two valves, or there's holes that are everywhere inside the heart, and the tubes that go in and out of the heart aren't in the right spot."

The kids health conditions have improved because they each underwent two surgeries as part of PCH's Complex Congenital Heart Infant Evaluation and Followup, or CHIEF program.

"The kids who were really the sickest of sick heart babies now get to go home, and they go home with a diploma and a graduation certificate," Pophall said.

One of those babies is six-month-old Lorenzo Olearus. His dad, Nicky, said he's relieved and looking forward to Lorenzo's future.

"He's going to make it. He's going to have a big inspirational story to tell, thanks to the medical team here at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

What they do for babies like Lorenzo is amazing, and they are truly heroes, in my mind."

About the Author

Years with the company: I started on January 2, 2006.

Education: I was born in San Antonio, Texas, but we moved to Phoenix when I was one-year-old in 1957. I grew up here and graduated from Alhambra High School and attended Phoenix College.

Family: I am married to my wife Rene', who is a librarian in the Washington school district. During free time, I may be found playing basketball in the driveway with my son, Devin. He's also keeping me busy with school, Little League, and playing in chess tournaments around the Valley.

Favorite food: Lots of favorite food, but our favorite restaurant is Fajitas.

Favorite spot in Arizona: The Little America Hotel in Flagstaff.

Favorite news memory: We have to go back to October 15, 1979. I was a country music air personality at KROP Radio in Brawley, California, when we had a 6.7 earthquake. Thankfully, there were no deaths and only minor injuries, but the entire community was pretty freaked out and listening to the station on their transistor radios. I would not want to go through an earthquake again, but it sure was a great night to work in radio and see how it can make a difference in people's lives.

First job: Working as a stringer for 'The Arizona Republic' at high school football games. My first real job was flipping burgers at the old Sandy's Hamburgers at 51st Avenue and Indian School Road. My first radio job was as announcer at KALJ radio in Yuma in 1977.

First concert: Doug Oldham gospel concert in the 1970s at the old East High School in Phoenix.

Favorite sports team: Phoenix Roadrunners minor league hockey. My dad took me to a game when I was in grade school, and I was hooked. I wanted to be a radio hockey play-by-play man. I used to take my cassette recorder and sit up in the rafters of the Coliseum and do play-by-play. It was great later in life to also take my son to Roadrunners games. Too bad the team just folded, I'll miss them. (Going to the Coyotes is fun, but they're not "my" team.)

Outside interests: My family and I are active in our church - Northern Hills Community Church in Phoenix. We enjoy going to movies, sporting events, and like to vacation at the Beach Cottages in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. And I love to play catch, basketball, football with my son.


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