Palmetto Hearts helps families cope with congenital heart defects and disease
Mother of four, Sara Wallace of Greer remembers the day in 2006. She was 22 weeks along in her third pregnancy when she went to a check-up to learn the sex of her baby. She was having a boy, she learned. “We also found out that day that he would require open-heart surgery to survive,” she says.
The blood flow in and out of his heart was switched, Wallace learned, which meant his body wasn’t receiving oxygenated blood. His aorta and pulmonary arteries were in the wrong places, and he had holes between his lower ventricles and upper atria. “It was just very overwhelming. We felt very alone and trapped with a diagnosis that we thought was fatal.” She didn’t want a baby shower for fear of having to come home to reminders should the worst happen when her son was born.
She quickly learned there were no support groups in the state for families dealing with congenital heart defects and disease, so she spent the remainder of her pregnancy reaching out to anyone she could find. She began to create her own network. And in late 2007, the same year her son Kaden was born, so too was her own organization Palmetto Hearts.
“We began as a care-package service,” Wallace says, adding that the fledgling organization soon discovered that what families dealing with CHD needed most was help with expenses. “They needed food to eat, a place to stay, and they needed to get their kids down to Charleston for surgery,” at the Medical University of South Carolina, she says.
Funded through private donations, Palmetto Hearts handles those needs for hotels, gas, and bereavement expenses through a reimbursement program for someone who has lost a loved one to congenital heart disease, Wallace explains. Through an alliance the organization has established with the MUSC Foundation, meals are provided to families when they’re at the hospital. The meal program has served families in more than 20 counties of South Carolina, and more than $30,000 has been disbursed in the past four years for expense reimbursement, the founder adds.
The group’s impact is growing with near daily referrals from the pediatric cardiologists at MUSC and offices throughout the state. What began as an organization of five families in 2007 has today grown to a database of more than 350, Wallace says. The charity hopes to expand its mission even further in the spring with a 5K run fundraiser in Spartanburg on April 14. A heart race to get hearts racing.