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Social worker is a pioneer for children's hearts

Mary Burge is a pioneer in a field many people have never heard of: For the last 30 years, she has been a pediatric heart transplant social worker at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. She started at the very beginning, assisting the family of a two-year-old who was the first young child to get a heart transplant in 1984, and is a much-loved member of the team at the hospital's Children's Heart Center.

Burge, who is profiled in a fantastic story in the San Francisco Chronicle, usually meets families soon after they've gotten the news that their child will need a new heart. They may be frightened, overwhelmed with medical information, worried and exhausted. Often, they haven't had time to think about - let alone meet - their immediate needs. That's where Burge comes in. The Chronicle story describes her first interaction with 7-year-old transplant recipient Abi Morgan-Mendoza and her mom, Jazmin Mendoza:

Amid a barrage of doctors and nurses, Mary Burge, the hospital's heart transplant social worker, entered Abi's room. Abi hid from her.

"I was afraid she was going to give me a poke," Abi said.

Instead, Burge brought an empty canvas tote bag for Jasmin Mendoza - for all the medical gear and paperwork she had already accumulated.

"Do you need a toothbrush?" Burge asked Mendoza. "Money for food? A bed at the hospital? Do you need underwear?"

Burge said she first tries to meet the most basic needs of families who have come from around the world seeking heart transplants. After that, she can begin to address more daunting questions: Does the family have medical insurance? A long-term place to stay near the hospital? Does the family have a phone? Reliable transportation? At least one adult who can care for the child and manage dozens of daily medications? If the answer to any of these questions is no, Burge jumps into action.

At every step of a child's wait for a new heart and recovery from transplant surgery, Burge is there to offer practical assistance, comfort and hope. She helps kids have moments of ordinary life in the midst of medical crises, and helps families navigate the intricacies of the medical system. The entire profile is well worth reading.

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