Little Hearts Get a Big Treat During Little Heart Hero Day Event

National “Authorstrator” Ben Clanton brings Narwhal and Jelly to Connecticut kids

The American Heart Association’s eighth annual Little Heart Hero Day sponsored by ConnectiCare was scheduled to take place at Lyman Orchards in Middlefield during peak apple season in September 2020. As in the past, children with congenital heart defects would spend time playing games, painting pumpkins, taking hayrides, and enjoying healthy snacks while parents would spend time networking and enjoying time with their families. But of course, that was not meant to be with recent events.

The AHA knew they could not let the kids down.

“We had to do something great for these little heart warriors who look forward to coming to our annual event,” said Debbie Bender, American Heart Association Director. “We knew we wanted to do something interactive that the kids would enjoy over a Zoom call. When we came up with the plan, we had no idea if we could make it happen. To our surprise, it all came together!”

Nationally known author and illustrator, Ben Clanton was contacted and asked if he would be on a call with the CHD kids to show them how he draws his characters. Clanton, who lives in Seattle, Washington agreed whole heartedly offering his time to share his journey as an author and his talent as an illustration with the kids and their families. Clanton, most famous for his Narwhal and Jelly series, has also written and illustration other books including, Rot: The Bravest in the World, Boo Who? and Mo’s Mustache, to name a few.

The event was hosted by local congenital heart disease survivor, 16-year-old Olivia Belfonti who welcomed the guests and emceed the event.

The first guest, Dr. Seth Lapuk of Connecticut Children’s in Hartford shared educational messages around staying safe and healthy at home and at school during COVID-19. The tips included washing your hands frequently, wearing masks at school, staying socially distant while staying active as much as possible.

Next, the children heard from Ben Clanton who shared stories of his childhood and the difficulties he overcame learning to read. This led to his inspiration to become a children’s author. He then spent time drawing a unique character with suggestions from the “audience”. Asked to name a few animals to create a new character, the chat box sprung full of ideas which led to combing a unicorn, chicken and pig creating a “Unichig!”

Rounding out the event was a special message from pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Robert Elder of Yale New Haven Health. Dr. Elder reminded participants that staying emotionally healthy is just as important as staying physically healthy for your heart. He encouraged everyone to take time to destress, take deep breaths and encouraged the kids to keep smiling and have fun.

Although the event did not take place as usual, everyone who participated received a great treat, meeting one of their favorite authors one-on-one…3,000 miles away.