By Aram Arkun
NEW YORK — Michelle Javian transformed personal tragedy into an opportunity to help others in pain. Her father’s death from heart disease opened her eyes to the need for financial, moral and informational support of victims of this disease and their families, who often have to travel to hospitals in distant cities for treatment and face great financial distress along with the direct effects of the disease. She and Yuki Kotani, whose father has struggled with heart disease and who herself has a congenital heart defect, founded a New York City-based nonprofit organization called Harboring Hearts in order to alleviate the needs of other sufferers and their families as much as is humanly possible.
Javian, born in Queens, grew up in Long Island and was active with her family in Holy Martyrs Armenian Church in Bayside. She went to Sunday school, picnics and Camp Nubar and still has numerous Armenian friends. She graduated from Georgetown University with a degree in health studies, which focuses on the administrative or economic side of health professions. Then she moved to Manhattan and began a marketing job in the healthcare division of Bank of America. The normal progression of her career was interrupted by her father’s sickness. He was in the hospital for nearly two years, and then passed away in April 2008.
Javian recalled, “While he was there, there were so many families that had traveled to the city for treatment from all around the world.”
Javian met her organization’s cofounder, Kotani, at this period. Kotani’s father had come from Japan because of his own illness and was going to be operated on by the same surgeon as Javian’s father. Javian realized, “There were so many families without financial resources to stay in the city. I was 25 years old and passion gave me the energy to start this.”
The two decided to help the families of heart disease sufferers. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, yet no organization existed to help families overcome the high costs of staying in the large cities where the major hospitals that carry out heart transplants and other complex operations are located. It took more than eight months for the necessary paperwork to be processed, but in April 2009, one year after Javian’s father’s death, they were able to formally found their organization.