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.