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The Heart Hero’s Journey 

By Ariel Gratch
September 30 – Oct. 1 at 7:30pm

Swain Hall Black Box Theater

heart hero.jpg

Photo Credit: Lyndsay Michalik Gratch

As a storyteller, Ariel Gratch created The Heart Hero’s Journey to contend with the precariousness of being a new parent raising a child with a rare, critical, heart condition. Barely beginning to wrap their heads around parenting, Gratch and his wife found themselves handing their four-pound, three-day-old child to a team that would perform open heart surgery.

During and after their hospital stay, Gratch’s family was embraced by a community of other parents of children with CHD. This community referred to their children as “heart heroes” and “heart warriors.” These terms, intended to be comforting for families, nevertheless carry with them loaded social and cultural meanings that raised concerns and questions for Gratch and his family. What does it mean to refer to an infant as a hero? As a warrior? Should a person who cannot speak for themselves be labeled at all? Inspired by Joseph Campbell’s seminal work, The Hero With A Thousand Faces, Gratch explores these questions as his family continues to nurture their son and wrestle with his condition.


Ariel Gratch, Ph.D., a UNC alumnus, earned his M.A. in Performance Studies from the Department of Communication. Gratch hopes this performance will resonate with anyone dealing with complex medical conditions and that it will emphasize how individual stories impact wider communities. “While the story is about my son and our family’s experience, the nature of storytelling is that a good story can become a story that anyone can tell,” says Gratch. “My hope is that as I develop our version of the hero’s journey, others who are on similar journeys might get ideas about how to tell their own stories as well.”

Sponsored by Performance Studies in the Department of Communication  

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