A Heart for Riley


February 9, 2021
Topics: Donors, Heart (cardiology), Riley Kid Story, About Us



Nichole Gralia full size 2021.09.02

For one nurse, caring for heart patients is extra personal

At 11 years old, Nichole Gralia was asked by a well-known pediatric heart surgeon to work with him someday at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.

“I vividly remember recovering from the heart surgery he had just done,” says Nichole, recalling the words of John Brown, M.D., after her third heart surgery in 1997. “I remember him telling me, ‘Someday you should come work with me.’ Those were pretty much his exact words. And I told him, no.” She laughs at the memory. At the time, she wasn’t feeling very good and was dealing with post-operative pain. But that comment planted a seed.

When Nichole was born in 1986, she had a series of heart defects. She was rushed to Riley Hospital and into the hands of the cardiovascular surgical team. Dr. Brown would conduct the first of four heart surgeries which occurred over her next 19 years.

Over the years, Nichole spent many days visiting the hospital for care and checkups. As time went by, Riley Hospital’s surroundings became even more interesting to her. “There was something about coming here and seeing my doctors and the care that they gave,” she says “I enjoyed coming. Then I just wanted to be able to give back the same way that they had given to me.”

Nichole went on to earn her undergraduate and master’s degree in nursing from Purdue University and joined Riley as a student nurse. She has worked on the Riley heart team ever since. Dr. Brown was there with her until his retirement at the end of 2020.

“One of his quotes I’ve heard him say a few times is, ‘Do what you love and love what you do.’ That’s what I think of often,” says Nichole.

Showing Gratitude Through Giving

Over the years, Nichole’s parents have been extremely grateful to Riley as well. Her mother, Cheri Wenger, has been a monthly donor to Riley for many years. “We could never give back to Riley what they gave to us,” Cheri says. “My daughter would not be here today, and I have grandchildren today that I never dreamed I would have.”

Donor gifts like help the heart program in many ways, including funding Riley’s mechanical circulatory support devices. These devices support children with failing hearts who are awaiting a transplant. Donations also provide Riley cardiologists and cardiovascular surgeons with the resources they need to innovate and improve care, and support researchers focused on discovering the underlying causes of heart defects so they can work to prevent them.

Cheri credits the continued research at Riley that has improved the surgeries for other children and will make a difference in future surgery for Nichole. Riley’s cardiology and heart surgery program is ranked 5th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, and it is one of the most highly respected programs for diagnosis and treatment of congenital and acquired heart conditions in children.

Nichole will need another corrective heart surgery sometime in the future , but is reassured by the care she has received through Riley and the commitment to her lifelong care through the Indiana University Health Adult Congenital Heart Program, a collaborative care program with adult congenital providers at Riley and Methodist Krannert Heart Institute.

“This institution goes the extra mile to find the care that you need. I think it is evident in our top five rating for our cardiac care center in U.S. News & World Report. We wouldn’t be able to do half of what we do without the support of donors. A lot of this research for life-saving procedures comes with a cost that we can’t fund on our own. Every dollar, every penny, counts toward somebody else’s life being saved.”

Support the Riley heart team

There are many ways to join the community of donors supporting pediatric heart care and research at Riley.

• Make a one-time gift or sign up to be a monthly donor so you can easily continue your support all year round.

• Connect with a member of the Riley Children’s Foundation fundraising team to discuss specific philanthropic opportunities and needs, or to learn about making gifts of stock, giving through your retirement account, or including support for the Riley Heart Center in your estate plan. Contact: Cara Lathrop, Vice President for Community Giving, at 317.759.6906 or clathrop@rileykids.org.

Start your own online fundraiser, get your school involved in raising money, name Riley Children’s Foundation the beneficiary of your event, or find other creative ways to raise money for Riley.


Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.


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