Aveeno Grant Winners!

This past year, the AVEENO® Brand launched the Be An Active Natural™ Fund to award more than $300,000 in grants to individuals and organizations that create positive change in their communities.

Co-founder, Yuki Kotani, was nominated to receive one of eight Aveeno “Be An Active Natural” $10,000 grants and won on behalf of Harboring Hearts. This is an amazing accomplishment! We are thrilled to be recognized by Aveeno, a community that shares our efforts to celebrate natural and inner beauty as well as promote an active, healthy lifestyle. Harboring Hearts is using the generous Aveeno grant to kick-off our emergency fund, which is helping heart patients and their families meet various forms of transportation and other needs.


Work It Out

Exercise. Love it or loathe it, it’s one of the number one ways of keeping our hearts healthy.  At age 16, I suffered a massive heart attack from a blood clot, but the fact that I was co-captain of my school tennis team and in good physical shape is one of the reasons I was able to survive such a major event. While I waited 9 months for my heart transplant, doctors emphasized how much exercise would help for a successful operation. Now that I’ve had my heart almost 14 years, I realize how fortunate I am to have received it, and I try to stay active to ensure it keeps ticking.
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  • The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (30 minutes, 5 days a week), or 75 minutes of rigorous exercise (25 minutes, 3 days per week).
But let’s face it: it’s not always easy. For those of us who are “allergic” to the monotony of treadmills, many gyms offer classes ranging from disco spin cycling to hip hop and break-dancing. But gyms can also be expensive, and sometimes it’s hard to carve out time in our otherwise busy lives. Despite these barriers, there are fun, creative ways to help exercise seem less like a chore.
  • Break it down: 150 minutes a week sounds pretty daunting. Even 30 minutes seems like a lot of time to spare most of the week. But breaking that time into shorter intervals: 15 minutes in the morning, 15 in the evening, makes it more digestible.
  • Make it less deliberate: I find that exercise feels less like an obligation and more “unintentional” when I build it into my everyday routine. Since I live in NYC, this might mean getting off the subway a few stops earlier on my morning commute, but it could also mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator in your office building or parking further away. Every little bit counts.
  • Make it an excuse to socialize: I’ve always enjoyed taking long walks. Not only is it a great way to take in fresh air and scenery, it gives me span of time to catch up with family or friends. Back in the days when I was still rebuilding my strength, my parents would bring along a wheelchair in case I needed to rest midway. Now when my parents visit, we always make time to wander through the park, stroll by the waterfront, or meander through a new neighborhood. Having set plans with an exercise buddy also makes both of you accountable to each other in achieving your goals.
  • Make it rewarding: Whether it’s swimming at your local pool, organizing a dance party, or co-opting your kids’ video game system for Wii fitness or Dance Dance Revolution, there’s no reason “exercise” has to be traditional. Running or walking in support of charities like Harboring Hearts can also motivate you when every extra mile means helping others.
No matter how you choose to stay active, it’s important to always consult with your doctor if you’ve been dealing with health challenges. But with a little creativity, you may find yourself enjoying exercise in spite of yourself. Your heart will thank you for it.
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Twitter: @jessicamelore

Healthy Hearts: Self-care vs. Stress

We are so happy to feature a post from guest blogger and health pro Tara Magalski! Check out more amazing and healthy information on her website at Divinelifestyles.com.


How do you manage your stress? Do you drink your woes away? Do you smoke to take off the edge?   Do you stay up all night tossing and turning? Do you take pills to calm your nerves? Do you find yourself over-eating to stuff down those feelings of worry? Do you find yourself spinning out of control?

Chronic stress exposes our bodies to elevated levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which can disrupt many of our body’s processes.  Unmanaged stress can lead to digestion problems, skin problems, disrupted sleep patterns, depression, psychological and emotional problems, over-eating and heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

The most important thing you can do for your health is to find ways to de-stress.  After living in NYC for eleven years, the hustle is in my blood.  We are prone to external stressors living in busy cities, so it is extremely important to find ways to cope. What I have found to be the most valuable tactic is “self-care”.

What is self-care? Self- care is all those things you do for pure pleasure.

 Divine Lifestyle’s “self-care” tips:

1.)  Well balanced meals:

  • Low in red meat and processed foods, high in fruit and veggie consumption. Fish and whole grains will keep your blood sugar stable through out the day. A well-balanced meal prevents diabetes and keeps your heart healthy and happy.

2.)  Exercise outdoors:

  • Spending time in nature and breathing fresh air is the healthiest way to work out. The American Heart Association recommends exercising aerobically at least thirty minutes all or most days of the week.

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3.)  Pray/Meditate:

  • Connect with your “spirit self” to remain balanced, relaxed and grounded.


4.)  Maintain a positive attitude:

  •  Positive thoughts are proven to make you feel at “ease”; negative thoughts are proven to make you feel “dis-ease” which can lead to many health problems. “The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change the outer aspects of their lives.”

– William James (1842-1910)

5.)  Pamper yourself:

  • Get a manicure/pedicure and make sure to get an extra ten-minute foot massage; or a facial and back massage…or even better, a spa day!

6.)  Cut out caffeine:

  • Caffeine elevates stress hormones that cause inflammation. Inflammation is one of leading culprits of heart disease.

7.)  Soak in the bath:

  • After a long day at the office, taking the time to wind down reduces stress hormones and will boost your immunity.

8.)  Cook your favorite meal:

  • Cooking for yourself helps you to become mindful of how you are nourishing your body.

9.)  Get 6-8 hours of sleep:

  • Not getting enough sleep can lead to hypertension and heart disease.

10.) Find quiet time to read your favorite book:    

  • Expanding your imagination is a great tool for reducing stress. The power of your imagination (through visualization) can produce calming, healing responses in your body.

11.) Book that vacation you always dreamed of…and don’t feel guilty: 

  • Taking “time-out” from your daily routine and doing something adventurous is good for your soul. It’s healthy to take a break from the grind.

12.) Spend quality time with loved ones: 

  • Love is all we need.  Spending time with loved ones lowers blood pressure.

13.) Find a fun dance class to set yourself free: 

  • Dancing is a great way to let loose and burn calories; and a great cardiovascular workout.



  • Smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease in men and women.

You can visit my website at www.divinelifestyles.com and my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/divinelifetara?ref=tn_tnmn


“Health brings freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it. Without your health, you have nothing.”

-Tara Magalski

From My Heart to Yours: An Introduction

When you envision your senior year of high school, heart disease doesn’t exactly come to mind. It isn’t supposed to happen when you’re 16, co-captain of your tennis team, and have never spent a night in the hospital. It shouldn’t happen when you don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have high cholesterol.  But even without the typical risk factors, heart disease knows no rules, and it happened to me when I least expected it.

While out at dinner with my parents, the world suddenly started spinning and I thought I would pass out. There were pressure pains in my chest and neck and it felt like my arms were made of lead. When the dizziness subsided, I assumed it was an allergic reaction to the food, a minor passing episode. Until an ambulance took me to a local hospital and a cardiologist said the dreaded words:

“Massive heart attack.”

A blood clot had lodged in the artery leading to the left side of my heart was completely blocking blood flow. I had a 20-30% chance of dying right then. At a second hospital, I was crashing. My lungs were filling up with fluid, and the Last Rites were said for me because I wasn’t expected to live through the night.

Doctors managed to stabilize me in time to take me to a third hospital in hopes of having a heart transplant as a last resort. With a critical shortage of organs and tens of thousands of people waiting, no hearts could save me. They implanted a then-experimental Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) to pump the left side of my heart via battery power while I waited in hope for a transplant. Additional complications forced doctors to amputate my left leg in order to save my life.

Jessica Hospital Post Transplant

It was time to reclaim my life and face a new reality. After six weeks in the hospital, I returned to school and kept myself as busy as possible with classes, friends, and school activities. Nine months later, just days before my graduation ceremony, I received my second chance at life: a heart from an 18 year old named Shannon. Three months later, I was able to start Princeton University on time, and I went on to work in the organ donation field to help the many others still in need of a life-saving organ.

When Michelle and Yuki were co-founding Harboring Hearts, I became an original founding member and now serve on the Board of Directors. Harboring Hearts’ mission resonated deeply with me, thinking back to the many sleepless nights my parents spent by my side. They didn’t miss one night, often sleeping in my hospital room, and their support made such a huge difference in my recovery.  There are so many other families in need of the emotional and financial assistance that Harboring Hearts provides. I’m honored to share my story in an ongoing blog series to help give voice to the patient experience and address different topics that we often face. I look forward to getting to know you in the coming months!

Lopez Family NYP

Find me on Facebook

Follow me on Twitter:   @jessicamelore


What is your current role at Harboring Hearts?

I handle all the office administration, manage our social media platforms and website development, and I am also in charge of HR.  Needless to say, I wear many hats here at Harboring Hearts, but that is one of the reasons why I love working here!
  • Favorite food:  steak and au gratin potatoes
  • Favorite travel destination: Maldives
  • Favorite book: Harry Potter Series
  • Favorite music: instrumental movie soundtracks
  • Favorite movie: Pride and Prejudice
  • Favorite way to relax: shopping, a hot bath and watching a movie…in that order

Recap of Recent Community Events, & How You Can Get Involved!

Harboring Hearts was able to help make February a little sweeter for over 450 pediatric patients and their families at two New York City hospitals through our Community Events initiative. These events create a warm, welcoming atmosphere, solidarity, and network of support for pediatric cardiac patients and their families.

On February 14th, Harboring Hearts participated in a community event at Montefiore Medical Center. The Grand Hall of the Bronx facility was home to shiny red heart balloons, Valentine’s cards, toys and board games, an information booth about Harboring Hearts, and more. Fun music played as children danced, had their faces painted, and ate a warm meal sponsored by Harboring Hearts. Many doctors, former patients, social workers, and caregivers attended as well.


Pediatric heart patients and families gathering together at Montefiore.


Parachute Fun!


Shayla Frandsen, Gacia Tachejian, and Michelle Javian at Montefiore Community Event


On February 19th, Harboring Hearts was at Mount Sinai Hospital participating in our second community event of the month. It was called a community event, but it was more like a party! Pediatric cardiothoracic surgery and interventional patients and their families enjoyed a variety of activities, booths, decorations, games, and music. Harboring Hearts donated and served delicious food to attendees, and we were even able to meet up with former beloved patients and friends!


Michelle Javian with a cute heart patient.


Gacia Techejian, Shayla Frandsen, and Michelle Javian at Montefiore.


Co-founders Michelle Javian and Yuki Kotani reunite with a family Harboring Hearts has recently helped.


Shayla Frandsen & Mikelle Kennedy at Mount Sinai Hospital community event.


Ira Parness, MD, and Chief of Division of Pediatric Cardiology said of the Mount Sinai event, “We had a huge and HAPPY crowd of children and families today . . . It was heartwarming that so many patients took out time from their busy lives to attend this party. There was a sense of joy and gratitude as the patients and their parents embraced their caregivers at Sinai.”

Many thanks to all of you for joining with us to help give back and make a difference in the lives of these families! We would not be able to participate in events like these without your continued contributions and support. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can volunteer at our next community event, please email us at info@harboringhearts.org.

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Fabulous Fish Recipe!

This recipe is heart-friendly and very easy to prepare!

Lemon Salmon with Rosemary

  • Wild salmon fillet
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Fresh rosemary leaves
  • Lemon
  • Capers
  • Brown rice
  • Broccoli
  • Aluminum Foil

Brush your salmon fillet with olive oil. Sprinkle the fillet with salt, pepper and rosemary. Put your salmon on a piece of foil long enough to cover the entire fish. Top the salmon with 2 lemon slices, 1 tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of capers. Enclose the salmon in the foil with some holes. Place the fillet (and foil) in the oven and bake at 350 for around 15-20 minutes or until it will flake easily with a fork.

Serve with brown rice and broccoli.

Important note: Be sure that the salmon is wild. Farm-raised fish do not have the same health benefits of wild fish.

Nutrition Facts:

Salmon contains more omega-3 fatty acids than most fish, thereby being extremely beneficial for the heart. Omega-3 fatty acids may lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting and boost immunity. Eating one to two servings per week of fish, especially one that is so rich in omega-3, has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, particularly sudden cardiac death.

Broccoli and brown rice have also been found to be advantageous for the health of the heart. Eating broccoli leads to better blood-pumping ability and less heart damage during oxygen deprivation. Brown rice is a good source of fiber, which can lower your heart disease risk in other ways besides lowering your cholesterol.

Heart health info:

Cardiovascular disease is the number one preventable killer globally. Over one-third of Americans suffer from it. This is why it is of the utmost importance for people to eat foods that will nourish the heart. Remember, it is never too early to start thinking about prevention!

Surgery only treats a small area of your body. With drugs, you may lower cholesterol, but if you do not take lifestyle habits such as nutrition into account, you are still at risk for a stroke or heart attack. Cutting out red meat and eating plenty of grains are not enough. An excellent diet is important to ensure the health of your heart- not just slightly cutting down on fat.

However, it is true that a low fat diet is necessary. This means keeping animal products to a minimum as well as added sugars and processed foods. You can crowd out the bad foods by simply eating more whole plants, vegetables, fruits, nuts and beans. These changes can prevent and even reverse heart disease.

In addition, it is crucial to exercise regularly and engage in stress-relieving hobbies such as meditation, listening to calming music, gardening, painting or spending time in nature.

Guest Blogger Bio:

Kristy Rao is a Holistic Health Coach and received her training from
the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, where she studied over 100
dietary theories, practical lifestyle management techniques, and
innovative coaching methods with some of the world’s top health and
wellness experts. Her education has equipped her with extensive
knowledge in holistic nutrition and preventive health. Please visit
her website at www.kristyraohealth.com. She is also a writer for Miss
A, an online women’s magazine. You can view more of her articles at
http://askmissa.com/author/krao/ and follow her on Twitter at

Heart Healthy and Delicious Fall Recipe!

“Oil-Optional” Vegetable Chili with Hemp Seeds

by Rebecca Johnson, Certified Plant-Based Nutrition & Wellness Expert, The Plant Rich Life


There’s nothing like a great chili to kick-off the Fall season as the temperatures begin to cool. Although beans grow best in the winter, easily storing them for later in the year is one of their great appeals for meal budgeting and planning. Beans are a filling, comforting option for a heart healthy meal. This recipe includes the nuttiness of hemp seeds, which lower “bad” cholesterol and provide more Omega 6. Hemp seeds can be eaten as a snack, and they make a great topping for salads and stir frys.

1 quart low sodium vegetable broth

½ cup onions, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tbls tomato paste

1 cup tomato sauce

3 tbls agave nectar

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

1 tbls oregano, fresh and dried

1tbls thyme, fresh or dried

½ tsp Himalayan sea salt

½ tsp cayenne pepper

½ tsp black pepper

1 small celery stalk, chopped fine

7 sun dried tomato halves, chopped fine (optional)

¼ cup bell pepper, red or green

2 cups red beans

½ tsp jalapeno pepper, minced

Additional Vegetable Broth as needed

1 tsp coconut oil (optional) can be added to onion, garlic mixture if no health concerns exist.

Soak beans overnight. Rinse beans and boil in low sodium vegetable broth. Sautee onions and garlic in ½ cup vegetable broth. After five minutes, sprinkle with a dash of salt. Cook for another five minutes. Add tomato paste, tomato sauce, agave and spices, stir well. Add vegetables, then beans and simmer for 45 minutes. Add vegetable broth as needed.

After your meal masterpiece is complete, scoop the warm chili into your favorite bowl served over brown rice, quinoa or millet.  You can also add chopped Swiss Chard or any dark green to balance the look and flavor. (Did you know you can roast the ribs and add them too?)  Yum!

Nutrition Facts

 Beans have B-complex vitamins niacin and folate, magnesium, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber and help to decrease inflammation.

 Hemp seeds contain all 10 essential amino acids and 3 tablespoons have 11 grams of protein! Plus they have a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (healthy) fat. In addition, hemp seeds contain GLA (gamma linolenic acid), an especially beneficial type of omega-6 fat that helps lower LDL cholesterol and improve cholesterol ratio.

Ingredients like hemp seeds are becoming much more available in neighborhood markets. Otherwise, they can be found at any health food store and most specialty food markets.

 About Rebecca Johnson

Rebecca started cooking with her chef Dad when she was 6 years old. But it wasn’t until he fell at 63 to a heart attack and she was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition that she discovered the connection between nutrition and health. After decades in restaurants, catering and health-related roles, she received a Certification in Plant Based Nutrition from Cornell University and became a Certified Health Minister at Hallelujah Acres.

Now, Rebecca teaches nutrition education and culinary classes in NYC public and charter schools through Plant Rich Life and plans healthy cooking classes and cooking demonstrations for Fortune 500 clients and non-profits through the event company, Celebrevents, LLC.

Plant Rich Life provides creative wellness solutions to help people transition from a low-nutrient Sad American Diet (SAD) rich in fat, sugar and animal protein to a nutrient-dense, low fat, plant protein HAPPY diet that restores and maintains health. Find recipes, nutrition information and more on Rebecca’s blog at www.phytalitycoach.com, on the Web at www.plantrichlife.com and on Facebook at The Plant Rich Life.


Name – Gacia Tachejian- Social Work Intern

Current role at Harboring Hearts :  As a second year Management Fellow graduate student at Columbia University, my role at Harboring Hearts is to assess the needs of patients and their families Also, as Harboring Hearts grows I will be working on the administrative and developmental tasks of the grant program. I work collaboratively with the CEO and one of the board members to ensure the success of the grant program and help as many families in need as possible.

How and why did you get involved with Harboring Hearts? I was introduced to Harboring Hearts through Columbia University Social Enterprise Administration Graduate Program. I was looking to complete my second year internship at a startup nonprofit agency that provides assistance for people of all ethnicities and age groups. I also wanted to work for an organization that provides assistance for those who are suffering from health disparities. It seemed like Harboring Hearts was the perfect fit.

I wanted to be a part of an organization that provides this type of support for personal reasons as well. Within the past 10 years I have lost three family
members to cancer and heart disease. I have learned first-hand the emotional and financial struggle that patients and their families go through. Programs such as what Harboring Hearts offers can have a significant impact on patients and their families. My personal experience made me want to get involved in the development of a program such as this.

Who or what have been your greatest inspirations in your life?

My greatest inspiration in my life has been my father. He lived a life of constant struggle, moved from country to country as an orphan and still has managed to be the hardest working person I know. With no real father figure in his life, he has parented both my brother and I in an incredible way. He has been our constant support and has never given up on our dreams even when we doubted ourselves. He is my greatest inspiration.

What are your career and life goals?

My career goal is to be running an organization that makes a positive impact on the lives of children and adolescents. I have a passion for children, their innocence, and their potential. I want to always have direct contact with the people or population that I am working with. As a social worker, it is important for me to not only be administratively running a program, but also have hands-on clinical work with patients.  A life goal is to be passionate about my work and have a balanced life that has room for work and play. 

Gacia’s Favorites

  • Favorite Food? – Sushi         
  • Favorite Ways to Relax? – Swimming, Yoga, and a nice bubble bath!
  • Favorite Music? Beyonce
  • Favorite Travel Destination? Paris and the south of France
  • Favorite Book? Random Family
  • Favorite Movie? The Notebook

Greek Watermelon Salad

For a refreshing summer lunch, try this easy and delicious (and healthy!) twist on a traditional Greek salad, courtesy of Elizabeth Woolfe, our interim Executive Vice President. Elizabeth says, “Nothing reminds me of summer more than the crisp, sweet, mouth-watering taste of watermelon. ENJOY!”

A refreshing twist on a traditional Greek salad.  So rich in flavor that it doesn’t even need dressing!

Serves 4 for lunch

I small head Romaine lettuce, washed and cut/torn into bite-sized pieces

3 cups watermelon, cut in 1-inch chunks

1 large cucumber, peeled and diced

¾ cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced

½ cup red onion, diced

¼ cup olive oil

Fresh ground pepper to taste

Fresh mint and parsley to taste

Combine all ingredients and chill together.  Add ¾ cup feta cheese, crumbled, just before serving.

Note:  you can add or substitute other salad ingredients: red or green pepper, ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella for the feta.