SAUGUS — Saugus is going red on Friday to support a resident and mother facing open heart surgery on Monday.
Michelle Vecchione, 39, was diagnosed with mitral valve regurgitation caused by rheumatic heart disease in January. Doctors also told her rheumatic fever had caused damage to her heart.
Her condition could cause heart failure or heart rhythm problems if left untreated. Vecchione’s heart is enlarged and she needs to have a valve replaced with a mechanical one. Her surgery is planned for Monday at Tuft’s Medical Center.
“It’s tough. As a parent, I wish it was me and not her,” said her mother Diane Vecchione. “She’s such a good mom and this is throwing everything off kilter for her. She has been weak, out of breath, and tired. She’s just trying to get through it. She’s got two little kids and they really need her.”
Support from the town began when Michelle’s son’s pop warner football team placed heart-shaped stickers bearing her name on their helmets before a game. Her son Cameron and the other 11 year olds took photos holding up a banner that said “get well soon.”
Soon the stickers were being sold for $5 each and could be seen on everything from helmets to vehicles, said Diane.
On Friday, Saugus residents are asked to wear red and post selfies holding the stickers to show support for the mom of two.
Money raised from the sale of the stickers will help cover medical and related costs of the surgery.
Once she returns home, she will need to recover in a newly set up room with a new mattress, bedding, and linens. She will also need a heart machine to test her blood levels daily. It costs about $2,000, which doesn’t cover the cost of testing strips.
An online meal train was started and quickly filled up with friends and neighbors offering to make hot meals for the family through most of the month of November.
The Vecchiones are no strangers to medical emergencies. Four years ago to the day, Michelle’s now 7-year-old daughter Isabella was intubated and placed on life support at Boston Children’s Hospital due to complications of pneumonia that caused a hole in her lung. She’s since recovered and is now a first grader at Waybright Elementary School.
Diane called her family resilient and said her daughter has a good support system, but will need help financially because she will be unable to walk or drive until January and is expected to be out of work until February.
“Bella is a little momma’s girl,” said Diane. “I looked everywhere for a book to explain what happens when parents get sick and have to stay in the hospital. There is nothing. They don’t really understand it but they will when Michelle’s recovering. Not having mom home will be tough but we’ve got a big family and everyone will pitch in.”
Stickers can be purchased by contacting Meghan Bierenbroodspot at email@example.com.