Giving Back: Fight against congenital heart defects continues following passing of Mason Villagran

Published 12:15 am Wednesday, June 27, 2018

LAPLACE — When Stephanie Villagran of LaPlace found out one of her twins would be born with congenital heart defects (CHD), she turned to the stories of other mothers for strength.

Mason Cruz Villagran endured more than seven surgeries, 20 blood transfusions and prolonged hospital stays before passing away April 22, 2016, just short of two and a half years old.

Stephanie Villagran holds daughter Malaya at the American Heart Association Walk in 2017.

Despite his diagnoses — which included ASD/VSD, AV valve deficiency, lung disease and Down Syndrome — Mason was always a happy boy who loved to clap, dance, play ball and watch Mickey Mouse.

His shining character made him an inspiration to dad Chris, twin sister Malaya and countless others at Children’s Hospital and Ochsner.

Mason may be gone, but Villagran said her son’s spirit is very much alive. Recognizing a need to provide support and awareness for other CHD families, Villagran participates in the American Heart Association’s annual Heart Walk.

“Mason was here for a special reason,” Villagran said. “We as a family are working in Mason’s honor to support families in our position. Most children with CHD are in intensive care for years, and they don’t get a lot of attention or donations from the community.”

Her team, Mason’s Angels, was recognized as the third place community team at the Heart Walk in 2016 and 2017.

This year, Mason’s Angels is raising $5,000 for the American Heart Association. As of Tuesday morning, the team had raised $1,340 with 145 days remaining until the 2018 Heart Walk, taking place from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 17 at 6600 Airline Park in Metairie.

NFL players Roman Harper and Mark Ingram visit Mason and his family at the hospital in 2015.

According to Linzy Cotaya, senior communications manager for American Heart Association Louisiana, donations fund pediatric cardiovascular research and help CHD through state and national level advocacy.

As a result of efforts, Louisiana law now requires a two-minute, $2 test to diagnose heart conditions in newborns before they leave the hospital, Cotaya said.

Mason’s Angels have also advocated helping NICU and CICU patients, leading Pierre Thomas’s ICanFoundation to donate toys to CHNOLA NICU. Before Mason’s passing, NFL players Roman Harper and Mark Ingram donated portable DVD players to patients in his honor.

Each year for Christmas in July, Lockheed Martin Leadership Association – Greater New Orleans Chapter 555 donates conducts a lunch fundraiser and a toy collection for NICU/CICU patients in honor of Mason.

Mason’s medical supplies were later donated to Ethan’s Project for special needs families who cannot afford health care, and his wheelchair went to Children’s Hospital of New Orleans.

Villagran urges congenital heart defects parents to be open minded and realize CHD is a journey marked by recovery, therapy and follow-ups extending beyond surgical procedures.

“Seek advice on support networks or hospital-based groups,” Villagran said. “While we all want to be strong for our families, we need a place where we do not feel alone.”

Businesses or individuals interested in helping Mason’s Angels can donate at

Team sponsorships are $100 with social media recognition and logo placement on all team shirts sold.

Gift cards, baskets and business product donations are also being accepted for use in raffles.

Villagran said donations are not required to walk with the team Nov. 17.

For more information, call 504-329-2573 or email