February is Heart Month, which recognizes the importance of cardiovascular health.
The Mending Little Hearts Fund of Saskatchewan is highlighting different ‘heart heroes’ each day this month to help raise awareness and funds.
“It just really highlights how common congenital heart disease is and how many families in Saskatchewan people can help with their donations,” volunteer Anna Maton said.
The organization was founded in 2016 and provides essential equipment and support to families who have a child with a congenital heart condition.
Maton is personally connected to the organization.
When her son William was nine months old, doctors noticed he had a heart murmur. They went to pediatric cardiology for a follow up, and doctors found a hole the size of a toonie in his heart. He had a major operation when he was just three years old.
“Having to go into the operating room and see your son be put to sleep, not knowing what the outcome will be is the hardest thing for a parent and definitely the hardest thing I went through,” Maton said.
The operation was a success and William is now a healthy eight-year-old who loves being active.
“I can do things like everyone else does, I just have to catch my breath a bit more,” the second grader said.
It wasn’t an easy journey to get where he is now, but connecting with families who have gone through similar experiences has helped. Some families have had to grieve the loss of a child, while others have had more of a happy ending.
No matter the outcome, families who have met through the Mending Little Hearts Fund of Saskatchewan said it makes them feel less alone.
One ‘heart hero’ being highlighted is three-year-old Nash Balysky-Crawford.
In the first few months of his life, he had major health issues.
“The right side of his heart was struggling, so he had a left side of his heart that was too small for his body and now a right side that was struggling because of that,” Nash’s mom Ashley Balysky said.
He stayed in the ICU for seven months before receiving a heart transplant.
Now, he’s healthy and happy — something Balysky doesn’t take for granted.
“When you don’t expect your kid to live to be three and now he is three and developmentally on par with his peers, every day is amazing,” Balysky said.
Aside from connecting families, one of the larger initiatives Mending Little Hearts Fund of Saskatchewan supports is CHAMPS Camp. Children across the province get to do a variety of activities and meet others who have had similar experiences.
Fourteen-year-old Brasen Sim is a normal teenager who loves baseball and hockey. However, he has faced challenges many people his age haven’t.
He was born with a heart condition called pulmonary stenosis and it developed into pulmonary insufficiency.
“The valve in my heart was closed shut and doctors did surgery to open it back up and now there’s a leak in it, so I’m going to need a replacement valve soon,” Brasen said.
Brasen has attended CHAMPS camp since he was nine-years-old, and looks forward to it every year.
“It felt comfortable in a way knowing that there are other kids like me and there are opportunities that I have still going through this condition,” Brasen said.
Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital pediatric cardiologist Dr. Tim Bradley said the camp, equipment and support provided by the Mending Little Hearts Fund of Saskatchewan helps patients and families.
“It also helps us provide things to our families like home monitors and equipment that is necessary to look after family in their home that is not always readily available,” Bradley said.
The parents and ‘heart heroes’ said even little things, like having iPads at appointments, make a big difference.
“They just purchased Disney Plus for the iPads in the room which might seem like a little thing, but when you’re three and get to watch Cars during your echocardiogram, that’s huge,” Nash’s mom said.
The ‘heart heroes’ campaign will continue until the end of the month, but the organization accepts donations year-round.