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Colby Groom’s parents and three older sisters feared they might lose him when he was 8 and 9 years old.

A world without Colby and his mended and majestic heart? A decade later, it’s ever more unimaginable.

Today Colby, who grew up in Healdsburg and at age 19 is into his second year of college in L.A., marvels at a milestone:

It wasn’t many years ago that he asked his dad, renowned international vintner Daryl Groom, to make and sell a wine to raise a little money for efforts against the sort of heart disease that twice caused him to undergo open-heart surgery. Today the donations to medical research and heart-health endeavors produced by that wine have surpassed $1 million.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Colby said. That’s putting it mildly.

BRIGHT AND COMICAL and full of wonder, Colby was 11 when he conceived the simple idea that led to the creation of a red wine blend that now is poured on United Airlines international flights and at P.F. Chang’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Fleming’s steakhouses, Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and other restaurants, and is sold for 10 to 12 bucks a bottle at Walgreens, BevMo and elsewhere throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Colby thought it would be great, at the outset, if he and his dad could sell enough wine to raise maybe $500 for research into coronary maladies such as the Atrial Septal Defect that caused him to be born with a hole in his heart.

That hole healed by the time Colby was 2. But not long afterward it was discovered that one of his heart valves was defective, and leaking.

At 8, he underwent open-heart surgery to repair it. That fix did not hold. A year later, a second open-heart surgery inserted into Colby’s heart a St. Jude Medical mechanical valve.

THOSE SURGERIES and the long recoveries were miserably hard on Colby. When he was back to feeling himself, at the age of 11, he told his family he wanted to do something to help other kids avoid what he’d been through.

He proposed to his dad that they make and sell some wine, and donate the money to the American Heart Association.

“Originally we planned on making two barrels,” Colby told me a few years back.

What happened then is that Colby became a star and his dad, one of Australia’s most esteemed winemakers before he and his wife, Lisa, brought their young family to California in 1990, demonstrated yet again that if he’s going to do something he’ll do it big.

Knowing that someone might buy one bottle of mediocre wine for a kid’s cause, but not two, Daryl created quite a lovely blend of five grape varieties: cabernet, shiraz, zinfandel, merlot and petit sirah.

He and his son gave it the perfect name.

COLBY RED. Daryl talked it up and invited people to taste it.

And the Grooms hit the road. Colby began to appear at Go Red for Women and other heart-health fundraising galas.

The Healdsburg kid melted hearts like butter. He’d stand and tell the story of his congenital heart defect, and of his surgeries, and of his quest to prevent and cure heart disease, and of the creation of Colby Red.

He’d then present the Heart Association or Children’s Heart Foundation or other sponsoring organization a check for $10,000 or $15,000 or more, and ask the gala guests to match it.

He continues to do that. So consider this:

The $1 million that sales of Colby Red have brought to heart research is a drop in the bucket compared to what Colby has inspired others to contribute through personal appearances such as the one at this past spring’s Chicago Heart Ball.

Colby and Daryl spoke, and so did Oscar Munoz, the CEO of United Airlines and a heart transplant recipient. Don’t be surprised if before too long you buckle up for a United flight and on comes a video of Colby introducing his wine.

At the Chicago fundraising ball, Colby presented the hosting American Heart Association a check for $100,000 and the guests kicked in another $3.2 million.

COLBY WAS STUDYING when I reached him at Loyola Marymount University, alma mater to all of his sisters, Lauren, who’s 29; 28-year-old Meg and Kara, 25.

Colby said the success of the wine bearing his name “is the most humbling thing.” With $1 million having been raised for heart-related research, his goal adjusts to $2 million.

That is, of course, just one of his many ambitions. In less than two years, he’ll be old enough to enjoy a glass of Colby Red.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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