Team at union contractor Merlo Plumbing brightens spirits of family undergoing crisis

AVA MARIE MURPHY, who underwent a heart transplant Sept. 30, plays with some of the toys she received from the team at Merlo Plumbing, a union contractor where her grandfather has worked for 15 years. – Diane Russo photo



Sometimes a small gesture can make the world of difference to a family struggling with a crisis.

Dave Russo, a Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562 member and a 15-year employee at Merlo Plumbing, found that to be the case earlier this fall after his infant granddaughter Ava Marie Murphy underwent a heart transplant.

Shortly afterward, his fellow coworkers at the union contractor surprised him and his wife Diane with a barrage of toys, dolls, stuffed animals and books for the child as well as gift cards to shops and restaurants.

“It just blew us away that they did that for us,” Russo said. “It’s been tough because Ava has been hospitalized 90 percent of her life, and my daughter Dawn and her fiancé have had to take a lot of time off work. It was such a nice gesture to be witnessed.”


Ava, who just turned a year old on Nov. 12, hasn’t had an easy go so far in life, nor have her parents or grandparents. For them, it’s been a year of constant worry and concern and long days and nights spent in the hospital.

Ava, the Russo’s first granddaughter, was born with a congenital heart defect. When she was three months old, she underwent a Fontan procedure to repair her double left ventricle. She had another corrective surgery in April, and just months afterward, her heart muscles began failing.

“Ava was put at the top of the transplant list,” said Diane Russo. “I kept in touch with Julie (Baldwin) from our Merlo family and my own work family, and we had giant prayer chains going. Ava finally received her new heart on Sept. 30, and it was a blessing. She’s doing well, but still has a ways to go in her recovery. It will just take time.”


Baldwin, a project coordinator at Merlo, and other employees first learned of Ava’s heart condition through Dave Russo when they saw him at the office. They kept up to date on developments through text messages with Diane.

“After the transplant, we decided to do something for the family,” Baldwin said. “They (the Russo’s) were just going through so much, and then there’s the financial burden. We all pitched in to help.”

Merlo, which has been in business 33 years, has about 70 employees and is a signatory contractor for Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 562, Laborers’ Local 110 and Operating Engineers Local 513.

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