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Healdsburg teen uncorks money for heart research

  • Colby Groom, 13, and his father, winemaker Daryl Groom, created a wine, Colby Red, to raise money for heart research. So far, they have raised $115,000 from sales of the wine, and have a goal of $150,000. Colby underwent two open heart surgeries before the age of 10 to correct a bicuspid aortic valve.

There's much about his two open-heart surgeries that Healdsburg 13-year-old Colby Groom doesn't remember, and doesn't care to.

The quick-to-laugh lad with large brown eyes does recall an incident that followed his first operation, an attempt to repair a congenitally faulty heart valve when he was 8.

"It hurt so much that I was yelling that the guy was killing me," Colby exclaimed.

His dad, Australia-born winemaker Daryl Groom, remembers that painful moment, too, and many others.

"We saw Colby suffer a lot," he said.

Groom said he and his wife, Lisa, and Colby's three sisters, Lauren, who's now 23; Meg, 21, and Kara, 18, "sat with tears while waiting for him to come out of surgery."

The repair on the aortic valve didn't hold. So nine months later surgeons cut again into Colby's chest and replaced the leaky valve with a mechanical one.

His mother wasn't entirely sold on the man-made valve, but it's worked like a Swiss watch. And like a watch, the device emits a steady click that's audible on the rare occasions Colby is still and quiet.

Initially, Lisa Groom found the clicking disconcerting. But after four years of flawless operation on her son's heart, she said, "it's quite a reassuring sound."

As soon as Colby was up and about after the second surgery, the then 9-year-old began to act on a desire to show his gratitude and help advance research into congenital heart defects. "I don't want any other kids to die because there aren't solutions," he said.

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