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Family sells jewelry collection to repay CHOC for 35-year-old hospital bill

From The Orange County Register

By Courtney Perkes | Orange County Register

Josefina Saldaña-Gaffoglio selected her jewelry with care, often making sentimental choices, like the gold cross she wore last year to a baby shower for her first grandchild.

The cross was a gift in 1992 from her husband on their son’s 10th birthday, a milestone she said wouldn’t have happened without Children’s Hospital of Orange County.

After Saldaña-Gaffoglio’s sudden death earlier this year, her son and daughter-in-law sold the necklace, along with her entire jewelry collection. On Wednesday, which would have been her 74th birthday, Eric Gaffoglio and Maryam Pakdelan-Gaffoglio presented a $10,000 check to CHOC from the proceeds.

“It’s what she wanted,” Gaffoglio, 35, told two nurses who worked in the neonatal intensive care unit when he was there. “That was her wish. When she died it was our responsibility to take care of it.”

The donation was not only a debt of gratitude, but repayment of an actual bill.

In 1982, Gaffoglio suffered a collapsed lung after he was born at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. He was sent to CHOC and after a three-day stay, his parents couldn’t afford the $10,000 bill. So CHOC waived the fee.

Saldaña-Gaffoglio always referred to the doctors and nurses as angels and expressed her gratitude. She said she wanted to one day donate her jewelry to the Orange hospital.

“She would always say that,” Pakdelan-Gaffoglio said. “We thought, we have time and she’ll do it.”

Instead, Saldaña-Gaffoglio died an hour after experiencing a stroke in January.

Saldaña-Gaffoglio collected jewelry from her travels around the world. She had pearls from Hawaii and a gold bracelet and necklace from Italy. Her most expensive pieces included a $3,000 diamond bracelet and a $5,000 Cartier necklace and earring set.

“She wore one piece at a time,” Pakdelan-Gaffoglio recalled. “It always had a story. She knew who gave it to her or who she bought it from.”

After her death, with the blessing of Gaffoglio’s father, the couple, who live in Orange, collected her 50 or so pieces of jewelry to sell. They kept only one item, her wedding ring, which she was wearing when she died. That will be passed on to their son, who is 7 months old.

Pakdelan-Gaffoglio, 32, said rather than simply cut a check, her mother-in-law wanted to donate her jewelry because it meant so much to her.

“It belonged to her and they were her pieces,” she said. “She wanted to give the little pieces of herself for the donation.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the Gaffoglios arrived at CHOC with the donation and the hospital bracelet from Gaffoglio’s stay. They toured the NICU and talked with long-time nurses.

“For 35 years ….,” Pakdelan-Gaffoglio said, before trailing off in tears.

“She never forgot,” Gaffoglio said.

Debbie Van De Velde, who has worked in CHOC’s NICU since 1982, said she was astonished by the gift.

“I can’t even imagine that somebody thought that long about repaying and that we meant that much to them,” she said.

Denise Ogawa, associate director for major and leadership gifts at CHOC’s foundation, said meeting the Gaffoglios filled her with joy.

“What they did not only helps the children and families served by CHOC but they remind us how much goodness and generosity exists in this community,” Ogawa said. “What they did was very meaningful and impactful.”

Gaffoglio said he took comfort in marking his mother’s birthday in a way that would have made her very happy.

“We definitely miss her and having the opportunity to do this in her name is pretty cool,” he said.

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