University of Sunderland graduate Sergio Petrucci and his wife Emma set up the Red Sky Foundation in 2016, a year after their daughter Luna underwent open-heart surgery, just days before her second birthday.
Cardiologists at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital described her tiny heart as a ‘ticking time bomb’ having discovered two complex heart conditions but Luna, now eight, is a healthy and happy child.
Sergio, 44, from Sunderland, said: “We tried to give the nurse in the intensive care unit £100 to go out for a meal with her boyfriend just to say thank you for looking after us, but she couldn’t take it.
“We left the money for them to buy essentials for the ward, nappies and things like that, and said we’d be back with a bit more money.”
Sergio and Emma now raise money for babies, children and adults with heart problems across the North East.
Through their fundraising events, they have raised nearly £400,000, helping to fund two state-of-the-art echo machines for Sunderland Royal Hospital and Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital.
They also raised funds for a specialist organ transplant machine, which keeps a donor heart healthy for longer giving surgeons more time to perform a transplant.
Their Foundation has also funded countless defibrillators across the North East and helped to secure a specialist Fontan nursing post in the region, the first of its kind in the UK.
Now, the couple’s efforts have been recognised with a Point of Light award, granted by Boris Johnson, to ‘outstanding individuals who are making a change in their community across the UK and the Commonwealth’.
“I’m completely overwhelmed, surprised and humbled,” Sergio said.
“Ultimately, the real people who deserve something like this are the ones who actually have to go through heart surgery or, even more importantly, those who perform the surgery. All we do is raise the funds to buy the machines.
“The last 12 months have been extremely challenging because of the pandemic, but we’ve still been able to make a huge difference to so many people.
“There was a cry for help from South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Trust to say their Covid wards didn’t have enough defibrillators to help people fighting against a sudden cardiac arrest due to Covid-19.
“We bought 23 defibrillators for Sunderland Royal Hospital to distribute across the wards.”
Sergio, who graduated from the University with a Business and Marketing Management degree in 1999, is making a virtual return to campus on Tuesday, April 20th to give an online talk to students.
He said: “I find it quite humbling and I’m really grateful for the opportunity.
“I am Sunderland born and bred and I am proud to have gone to the University. I certainly believe the course, lecturers and the people I met along the way gave me the foundations to build on.
“It taught me that hard work will achieve results and to believe in myself, and when you do have to work a little bit harder to reach your goals it is so rewarding.”