Support for Mooorestown teacher awaiting child with heart defects

At Moorestown High, art teacher Julia Mooney, pregnant with a child who will require heart surgery, and husband Patrick. She has created a book to raise money and awareness of childhood heart defects.
At Moorestown High, art teacher Julia Mooney, pregnant with a child who will require heart surgery, and husband Patrick. She has created a book to raise money and awareness of childhood heart defects. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 16, 2014

MOORESTOWN Worried about the health of the child she is carrying, Moorestown High School art teacher Julia Mooney sat at home on a snow day last month and lost herself in her painting.

Her baby boy, due in late spring, had been diagnosed with multiple congenital heart defects in December. He must undergo open-heart surgery the minute he is born in order to survive.

Hunting for a creative outlet for her stress, the Audubon resident painted a scene for a children's book she had written in a similar rush of inspiration just weeks after hearing the diagnosis.

She hoped Flowers in the Moonlight would help raise awareness of childhood heart defects. She was scrambling to complete the project by the week of Feb. 7, which annually is observed in New Jersey as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week.

On Friday, Mooney and her fellow teachers used Valentine's Day as a platform to promote both her book and her cause.

A T-shirt she also designed - featuring Moorestown's Quaker mascot leaning on a large red heart - was offered for sale at the school store, along with the book and prints of illustrations from it. About 40 shirts had sold by the end of the school day Friday.

Mooney said she would donate the profit she makes from every book - about half of the $19.99 price tag - to Gift of Life International, a nonprofit that helps treat children born with congenital heart disease in emerging nations.

The books are printed to order through her website, flowersinthemoonlight.org, via the Tennessee-based self-publishing firm Lightning Source.

"It's totally nerve-wracking," she said of her baby's condition. "It's scary. Sometimes you just wish you can run away from it all."

Instead of running, Mooney would lose herself in her creative work.

Formerly an artist for an architectural modeling firm, she worked mainly in watercolors, painting a series of lush garden scenes replete with fairies and fireflies.

In the book, two adult flower buds bloom together each night under a moonlit sky. When an infant bud grows in the same bush next to the two flowers, the herbaceous couple stop meeting each night, and the female dreams of a life far from her home bush. When she realizes that she misses her family, she wakes and finds a new appreciation for those around her.

"It was definitely a loose metaphor for what I was going through," Mooney said.

Mooney's husband, Patrick, who teaches social studies at Moorestown - the two met at the school - contributed a poem to the opening pages of the book.

Though dealing with a congenital heart defect has not been easy on either of them, their child is expected to fully recover from the surgery.

The baby has been diagnosed with a transposition of his great arteries - the pulmonary artery and aorta switched places, and deoxygenated blood would be pumped through the child's body. The operation has a 98 percent survival rate, Mooney said.

"We're just lucky to live close to such a great hospital" in Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the 32 year-old added.

"I definitely think the fund-raiser showed her how many people she has supporting her," Dana Force said while working behind the counter of the school store. "We're a huge family here."

Once her baby is born, Mooney said she plans on turning her self-publishing experience into a business lesson for budding artists at the school.

"A lot of my students want to go on and become illustrators or artists," she said. "We might partner with the business wing of our department to develop a lesson in self-publishing."

On March 15, Maestro Studios, a music school in Haddonfield, will host a Flowers in the Moonlight-themed art show.

At the end of the day, senior Caitlin Burke - one of Mooney's art history students - wandered into the store to order a copy of Flowers in the Moonlight before heading home.

"I just want to support whatever she's doing," Burke said. "She's so enthusiastic about everything in her life."


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