February is not only the month of romance but also heart month. The pumping blood kind. With that in mind, we wanted to share a little different story.
Each year Harlequin conducts a contest called “More Than Words” where their authors are asked to nominate someone they know who is making a difference in others’ lives. In 2016, Susan Carlisle, one of our medicals authors, nominated Jodi Lemarks, who works at Mended Little Hearts. It is a nonprofit group that helps families who have children born with heart birth defects. Susan is the mother of a son with serious heart defects, so she easily appreciates Jodi’s efforts. Jodie was one of three winners. Because of her dedication to children, Mended Little Hearts was awarded $15,000 to continue their vital work.
Below Jodie shares in her own humble words what makes the work done at Mended Little Hearts important.
“I felt so alone” are words commonly used by people to describe how they felt after their child was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect (CHD), the most common birth defect in the U.S. Loneliness has become much more prevalent in our country even for those not facing a CHD diagnosis. Recent studies show that despite being more connected via social media and other online venues, people feel more alone than ever, with those 35 and younger reporting feeling the most alone. Per Forbes. This sense of isolation can be far worse for parents and family members caring for a child with a life-threatening condition and for teens and young adults with CHD who feel “different” from their peers.
The number one goal of Mended Little Hearts is connection. Mended Little Hearts provides local and national peer-to-peer support to prevent people from feeling so alone after they hear some of the most devastating news of their lives—that their child has a heart problem. Mended Little Hearts provides a caring support network to families in crisis and empowers them to live happier, healthier lives.
Mended Little Hearts’ support takes many forms. Mended Little Hearts chapters throughout the nation support families in a variety of ways including local support group meetings and programs. Mended Little Hearts also supports families locally and nationally through parent matching, accredited visiting programs, patient and family education, CHD awareness, and advocacy. One of Mended Little Hearts signature support programs is its Bravery Bag program where families in the hospital are given bags full of toiletry items, comfort items, and some fun things as well to make their hospital stay a little easier and to let them know there is someone out there who cares. And it works—people email and call to tell us how much the Bravery Bag meant to them and asking how they can support the Bravery Bag Program.
Most Mended Little Hearts leaders started their chapter for one of two reasons: Either 1) they felt very alone after they found out about their child’s heart condition and there was no support group in their area, or 2) they got support from Mended Little Hearts after diagnosis or while in the hospital and want to give that same support to others. These chapters provide their local hospitals and communities with many services that make lives better for those affected by CHD.
CHD awareness is also an essential function of Mended Little Hearts locally and nationally as most people don’t hear about CHD until after their child is diagnosed despite it affecting 40,000 babies each year. The hope is that the more awareness we can spread, the brighter the future will be for children and adults with CHD and their families.
Mended Little Hearts local and national leaders want you to know that if you have a child with CHD or have CHD yourself and find yourself feeling scared and alone, remember, Mended Little Hearts is there.