When American Idol’s Danny Gokey lost his wife, Sophia, during surgery for a heart problem last July, he was beyond devastated. “He was feeling like it was hopeless, almost like he didn’t want to live,” his brother-in-law Ivan Santiago tells In Touch. And yet the Idol audition, which his wife had encouraged him to go to, was just months away. “Initially, he questioned whether he should do it, but he and his wife had talked about this for a year beforehand. In the end, he decided to do it as a tribute to her.”
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After enduring an emotionally volatile Hollywood week, Danny made it to the top 36, and by December, says Ivan, “He finally started seeing the light. That was a key point for him, just being able to put the emotions in perspective, just realizing that the memories and the love are always going to be there, but you have to move on at some point and make something positive out of it.”
Danny used the money from his wife’s life insurance policy to set up a foundation in her name, called Sophia’s Heart Foundation. Ivan, who is married to Sophia’s sister, works with him as vice president. “Her biggest dream was to have a large family, but because of her heart condition, they were never able to have children,” Ivan tells In Touch. “A lot of this has also been part of the healing process for Daniel and the family. So through the foundation, Sophia’s Heart Foundation is reaching out to children up to the age of 18, who have been touched by poverty, sickness, disease, broken families, broken dreams.”
Sophia’s Heart Foundation has already touched many lives, in different ways. In late December, they helped a woman who had lost her job and was forced to send her kids to live with relatives make a down payment on an apartment so the family could be reunited by Christmas. A few weeks later, they made sure the children of a woman who was killed in a freak car accident on Christmas Eve got holiday gifts. Currently, they’re working with the Milwaukee Center for Independence to get instruments for kids in their music program. “Danny really feels that this foundation is not just going to help children in the long run, but also help families,” say Ivan. “A lot of foundations focus on the Band-Aid — you know, ‘Let’s take them to Disney World’ — so a large part is to establish community centers and educate parents, to help shape and strengthen the families.”
The instant response from Idol fans fueled their efforts. “I think that’s when he really embraced what’s going on with American Idol,” says Ivan. “When we put the foundation web site up, we were receiving emails from people who were really moved and encouraged to go forward — really awesome feedback that made him feel like, ‘Wow, this is turning into a mission.’”
Of course, now that Danny has made the Top 12, he’ll be more busy, but Ivan — who was in the audience last week holding the photo of Sophia — says that he’s still very much involved and his wife would have been proud. “She was an avid American Idol watcher, so she really was stoked for it,” he says. “She would have been in my place last week, just rooting him on.”
Sophia’s Heart Foundation is holding a Latin Dancing Charity Event at Club Sugar in Milwaukee on March 1, and fundraisers in other cities are being planned as well. Check out sophiasheart.org for more.
For more on Danny, check out this week’s In Touch, on sale now.