Defects inspire many
Mend a Heart supports children with congenital heart defects
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Bridget and Brian O’Meara co-founded the Mend a Heart Foundation ten years ago, in hopes of turning devastating news into something positive. While pregnant with their second son Liam O’Meara, Bridget and Brian learned their precious baby boy would be born with a severe congenital heart defect, hypoplastic left heart syndrome.
After Liam was born, he had three major surgeries within the first two years of his life to help his half of a heart function as a whole heart. Inspired by their son, Bridget and Brian knew Mend a Heart Foundation would be a perfect way to give back to all the doctors and nurses and to help other children suffering from congenital heart defects.
“We wanted to do something to help kids like him,” Bridget said. “For me, I think things happen to you for a reason and sometimes bad things happen. We need to make the best of it.”
This year marks the 10th anniversary for the Mend a Heart Foundation, Bridget said. The foundation hosts an annual fundraising event known as Heartfest. This year’s fundraiser was held on Feb. 18 at the Hinsdale Community House.
“It’s a vibrant atmosphere with good music,” Mend a Heart attendee Ellie Wackerman said. “People are there to support a good cause.”
This year was the biggest turnout with over 400 attendees, Bridget said. The foundation raised over $110,000 — the most ever raised at an event. Over $700,000 has been raised since 2007.
The Mend a Heart Foundation was founded to provide aid to kids with congenital heart defects, Bridget said. Researchers from all over the country at the leading heart centers send in grant applications to Mend a Heart. The medical board then reviews the applications and determines which medical researchers to fund each year.
“We are this year in 2017 funding a researcher who’s trying to figure out how to put an implantable pump into kids with [Liam’s] condition as they age and their heart wears out,” Bridget said. “That is something that could potentially be life changing for him if that researcher is able to figure out how to do that.”
In addition to research, Mend a Heart donates money to Young Hearts for Life (YH4L), a program that performs cardiac screenings for high school students, Bridget said. Mend a Heart provides YH4L with many of their machines and equipment.
YH4L has the potential of screening many kids at high schools to discover undetected heart defects, including 800 students at Nazareth Academy alone, Bridget’s sister-in-law and Mend a Heart volunteer Colleen Fritzsche said.
Mend a Heart also supports a summer camp for heart kids — kids with heart defects, Fritzsche said. The camp is medically supervised with a staff made up of trained doctors and nurses.
“Liam went to heart camp and he was like, ‘You know mom, there are kids just like me. They have the same scar as me,’” Fritzsche said. “There is something powerful about that, you don’t feel alone.”
Over 300 heart kids are sent to the camp, kids that wouldn’t usually be able to go to camp because of their serious heart conditions, Bridget said.
“Our goal is that [Mend a Heart Foundation] impacts all children with congenital heart defects,” Bridget said. “If it weren’t for [Liam], it would be unlikely we’d be doing what we’re doing with the foundation.”