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Healdsburg 15-year-old Colby Groom sometimes starts his talks to rapt audiences of 200, 600 or 1,000 people by declaring he's happy to be there.

Then he says he means not just there in Chicago or Orlando or San Diego or Dallas, but there above ground, there among the living.

Being born with a defective heart valve and enduring two open-heart surgeries and long bouts of debilitation and playground treatment as the sick kid once had Colby sullenly lamenting his lot. Not any more.

"I love my life," exclaimed the bright and slightly goofy kid. "And I love it being exactly what it is right now."

Life right now for the Cardinal Newman High sophomore is, for one thing, eating. Food is joy for this kid, and he packs it away.

"How many waffles did you eat today?" his mother, Lisa, asked during a family conversation at their home off Westside Road. Colby grinned. "Seven," he said.

Right now, life for Colby also is raising money — astonishing amounts of money — in his personal quest to assure that one day no children will have to suffer the way he did. He's serious about helping to discover and prevent the causes of hereditary heart defects.

Recently he and his dad, celebrated Australian-born winemaker Daryl Groom, donated $20,000 to boost the research by Dr. Paul Grossfeld of the University of California at San Diego. Grossfeld and a research team have identified a new gene linked to congenital heart maladies.

"I really love that cause," Colby said, because it holds the promise of preventing such defects and thereby sparing kids of going through what he's gone through.

The $20,000 donation was made possible by the sales of a wine that Daryl Groom created in 2010 at his son's suggestion.

"Originally we planned on making two barrels," Colby recalled. His idea, at age 12, was to use his dad's winemaking mastery and connections to sell the wine, then donate the profits to the American Heart Association.

There was born, Colby Red. It's a blend of cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, shiraz, merlot and petite sirah.

Colby likes to say that from its humble, two-barrel beginning, Colby Red "kind of spiraled out of control."

Recently, the sales proceeds that come to the Grooms for donation to heart-defect research and services for patients topped $350,000. That money came in the form of royalties paid to them by the international Treasury Wine Estates, which makes and distributes Colby Red.

The wine is made at Asti Winery and sold across the country at Walgreens, Safeway, BevMo and Mollie Stone's Markets, and it is served at Fleming's steakhouses, California Pizza Kitchen, Kona Grill and The Capital Grille.

Sales were robust even before Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb tasted and talked about Colby's wine and mission on "The Today Show" in March of 2012 and Gifford remarked, "By the way, that Colby Red, it's one of the best red wines I've ever tasted."

The wine is so good and the cause so compelling that when Colby and Daryl went weeks ago to 21 Healdsburg restaurants and asked them to pour Colby Red to mark the seasonal return of the Tuesday evening concerts on the town plaza, all 21 signed on. Colby Red has become a premiere sponsor of the concerts.

It's clearly remarkable that the charitable idea of a grateful and ambitious 12-year-old has generated $350,000. But that money is a drop in the bucket in relation the the sum Colby has generated for the American Heart Association and other agencies by speaking and making personal appeals at fundraising events around the country.

About 20 times, Colby has appeared at benefit banquets and shown a video that recounts his birth with a faulty aortic heart valve, his two open-heart surgeries, his yearning to contribute to the prevention of heart defects and the evolving story of Colby Red.

He then presents the American Heart Association or other sponsoring heart-health agency a check for perhaps $10,000 or $15,000, then asks the people in the banquet hall to match that gift or contribute whatever they can.

"He's probably helped raise a few million extra dollars," Daryl Groom said. Speaking for himself and Lisa and Colby's three sisters — paralegal and international traveler Lauren, 25; Meg, a 23-year-old medical student currently on a service mission in Bolivia; and Kara, a 20-year-old college student traveling now in Germany — Groom said, "We get very proud these days when we watch Colby up on stage."

The teen is preparing to do even more to raise funds and awareness about the congenital defect responsible for him carrying a softly clicking, mechanical valve in his heart and for him looking at a lifetime of taking the blood-thinner Coumadin.

For his service project at Cardinal Newman, he is working to enter a large team in the Heart Walk that will take place at Santa Rosa's Howarth Park on Sept. 8, and to do that same thing each year through to graduation.

Colby isn't yet thinking too much about college and beyond, he's quite likely more focused on what's for lunch. But at this point in his career planning he expects not to follow his dad into winemaking but to expand his potential for serving people by going into electoral politics.

He likes the idea of becoming a member of Congress. "In truth," he said, if I get there I might as well throw my name in for president."

Regardless of the field of endeavor he chooses, Colby said it is his wish to live a long, productive life and to be remembered after he's gone for the good he did.

Whatever the lad does, he puts his heart into it.