Robert Young knew he wanted to do something meaningful for others when his 8-month-old son Gianni Young, affectionately known as baby Gio, died on Mother’s Day in May 2020.
Gio was born with a congenital heart defect known a hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a type of birth defect that affects normal blood flow through the heart.
“As the baby develops during pregnancy, the left side of the heart does not form correctly,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
Young, the associate professor of saxophone at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, decided to do a project aimed at raising awareness of congenital heart defects through music.
That project is called the Gio project and is dedicated to the life of his son.
On Feb. 12, “Concert for Gio” will be livestreamed at 7:30 p.m. from Watson Hall at UNCSA.
All donations will go to Mended Little Hearts of the Triangle to benefit children and families in North Carolina. Mended Little Hearts is a nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for families and children who have been impacted by a congenital heart defect.
“It’s going to be a virtual concert,” Young said. “Sprinkled throughout the concert, we’re going to have medical professionals giving information about congenital heart defects and about Gio’s specifically.”
There will also be information about Mended Little Hearts and how people can make donations.
In addition, Young and his wife, Amir Young, will share their journey as parents.
Gio and his twin brother, Jaden, were born Aug. 16, 2019, at Duke Medical Center.
“We knew before they were born that Gianni, who is the youngest twin, was going to be born with a congenital heart defect,” Robert Young said.
He said patients who have the congenital heart defect Gio had typically have a series of three surgeries that they need for a chance of survival, but their family got the news that Gio was not going to be a candidate for the first surgery because of medical complications.
The hospital basically became Gio’s home, he said.
“For quite a while after that news came out, he fought pretty hard and defied a lot of odds, but eight months later it became too much for him,” Young said.
He said it’s hard to see your children going through something like that.
“I was struggling to figure out what I could do,” Young said. “I can’t make him better. The only thing I can do is pray and support and love him, which we actually did.”
The hardest part, he said, was during the flu restrictions in December 2019 and later COVID restrictions at the hospital that limited the number of guests allowed in rooms and the age of guests.
“Visitors under 12 cannot come in the hospital, so that meant in December (2019) Gianni and Jaden weren’t allowed to be together, then of course a COVID restriction came in,” Young said.
Until the restrictions, Gio and Jaden had regular visits in the hospital, he said.
Jaden is now 18 months old, and the Youngs just welcomed a new addition to the family.
Amir Young gave birth to Sasha, a girl, Jan. 31.
Although the aim of the Gio project is to raise awareness, Young said he also wants “to make the lives a little big brighter for these kids and these parents that are going through a very difficult time.”
His wife also spoke of the importance of the project.
“I want other families that are newly experiencing the journey of having a child with HLHS, to know they are not alone,” Amir Young said. “Through the Gio Project, I also would like others to receive an understanding of what the journey is like having a son or daughter with a congenital heart defect.”