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Dawsonville resident publishes children’s book in honor of fallen airman son
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Karl Porfirio published “My Daddy’s Heart is Purple,” a children’s book that teaches children about the Purple Heart medal. The story was inspired by Porfirio’s relationship with his 8-year-old grandson Landon. - photo by Jessica Taylor

“I know it’s going on eight years but it seems like yesterday for me,” said Karl Porfirio, his hand gripping newspaper clippings that detail his son’s tragic fate.  

In November 2009, Air Force Senior Airman Tre Porfirio was shot three times during an ambush in Afghanistan. Desperate to save the 21-year old’s life, doctors and surgeons tested a groundbreaking islet cell transplant procedure to help the airman survive without his bullet-riddled pancreas.

The procedure was a success, bringing international acclaim to Tre Porfirio and his team of doctors as the story was picked up by media outlets like Reader’s Digest, the New England Journal of Medicine and Good Morning America.

“I thought we were on our way to recovery. I really did. And he was gone a month and a half later,” Porfirio said.

While visiting family over Thanksgiving weekend in 2010, Tre Porfirio suddenly passed away, leaving a hole in Porfirio’s heart.

“I, as much as I miss my son, I have the fortune to say ‘my son’s a hero,’” Porfirio said. “My goal is to make him be remembered.”

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Col. Amanda Gladney pins a Purple Heart medal on Senior Airman Tre Porfirio on July 18, 2010. He received the honor after undergoing a groundbreaking procedure where doctors harvested islet cells from his bullet ridden pancreas and transferred them to his liver to save his life. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Tre received a Purple Heart in July 2010. A purple heart is awarded to members of the armed forces who are wounded in action, are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.

He left behind an 8-month-old son, Landon.

Porfirio, a Dawsonville resident, was inspired to publish his first children’s book, “My Daddy’s Heart is Purple,” to help children understand what the medal means just as he tried to help his grandson understand why his father died.

“Children… they need to be proud,” said Porfirio. “I want my grandson to be proud of his dad. I want when he grows up to say ‘My daddy didn’t leave me. My daddy had to leave me’ or ‘it wasn’t his choice’ … because that’s what kids think. ‘Why did my daddy leave me? Why did my mommy leave me?’”

For months, Porfirio had the story bouncing around his mind until he finally decided to sit down and put his story onto paper.

 “I always wanted to write a children’s book. Years ago I said ‘if I could do anything I’d write a children’s book. I don’t know why. Maybe because I was a pediatric nurse,’” Porfirio said. 

Porfirio grabbed his laptop and sat outside in his screened-in porch and began typing. Within a day he had penned the entire book.

“I didn’t think I’d publish it. I thought this would be my book,” Porfirio said as he thumbed through his original hand stapled manuscript printed on computer paper.

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Karl Porfirio shows his original manuscript printed on computer paper written nine months ago next to his newly published hard copy book. - photo by Jessica Taylor

The hardcover book looks drastically different from its original state, complete with rich illustrations that look exactly as Porfirio said he had envisioned.

“I described every scene to the publisher and I was blown away. I thought they did above my expectations especially the cover art,” Porfirio said. “I said ‘maybe the man could have a purple heart and the little boy could have a red heart like shining through.’ I didn’t have to change it or correct it. They sent it back and I was just like ‘It’s exactly what I was looking for.’”

After nine long months of working with Covenant Books, Porfirio made his dream a reality as “My Daddy’s Heart is Purple” debuted on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites June 3.

The book tells the story of a grandfather who tells his inquisitive grandson about the Purple Heart sticker he sees on a car.

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“My Daddy’s Heart is Purple” was inspired by Karl Porfirio’s grandson, Landon. Landon’s father, Air Force Senior Airman Tre Porfirio, was shot while serving in Afghanistan in 2009 and died a year later from his injuries. - photo by Jessica Taylor

Porfirio hopes that his story can help little boys and girls cope with the loss of a military parent and that they will grow up understanding what their sacrifice means.

Inside the book, Porfirio was careful to make the subject appropriate for children aged five to 10, and to call the boy in the story “little one,” so that both boys and girls could relate.

“It’s for everybody,” Porfirio said. “I didn’t want people to think it was just about my son. It’s about everybody’s son and daughter.”

Porfirio donated a copy of his book to the Dawson County Library and said that it should be on shelves in two months. He also hopes that it will be used by the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS) Good Grief Camp for children. 

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Karl Porfirio looks at his favorite page of his book, the last page which shows a grandfather and his grandson together at the ice cream parlor. - photo by Jessica Taylor