When a child’s parents die, that child is called an orphan. When one’s spouse dies, the survivor is called a widow. But there isn’t a word for a parent who experiences the death of their child, no word that encompasses such loss.
Jamie Hannah was two years old when she died of congenital heart disease. Spurred by the death, Jamie’s father, Tim, founded and dedicated a foundation in his daughter’s name to help other children with heart diseases.
“For me, it was an avenue of grieving. It was a way to take that energy, I’ll call it energy, I guess grief, and do something about it to remember her,” said Hannah
After observing other families’ struggles to meet essential payments and get time off work to be with their children, Hannah wanted to help. As a result, he created an organization where parents could prioritize time with their children rather than worrying about work. In the past, families were given gas cards to cover the expense of traveling back and forth to the hospital.
Once families are referred to the foundation by social service workers at the hospital, the staff at Jamie’s Heart Foundation determine how they can help. The foundation makes money by fundraising and through donations, using the funds to help parents pay for gas that’s used driving to and from the hospital, as well as helping with mortgage bills when the parents can’t work.
“I found them (Jamie’s Heart) and then I just thought it was really cool and felt connected because the person it’s in honor of, she was born with the same heart defect that I have,” said Zoë Cardwell, a staff member of Jamie’s Heart Foundation.
As a distraction from the struggles of life, Jamie’s Heart kids are given the opportunity to go to a Tacoma Rainiers baseball game once a year. At the game, they receive free food, drinks and meet the players on the field.
“I always loved those days because it was like you could forget about all the struggles that every one of these kids have been through or are still going through […] and it was a day just to say, ‘Hey, we’re here enjoying a game’,” said Hannah.
One boy, in particular, had an upcoming intensive surgery and missed out on the game. As a result, the Rainiers invited him to go into the clubhouse and meet the players. According to Hannah, he got autographs and seats in a suite, allowing him to forget about his upcoming surgery and enjoy the event with his family.
“I think that you’d be surprised; for instance, the statistics are just about one in a 100 kids are born with some form of a congenital heart defect,” said Hannah.
Hannah continued, saying people aren’t aware that there may be someone in their class that’s had some form of experience with a heart condition. Additionally, Jamie’s Heart focuses on younger children and Hannah would like to see more support for young adults with underlying heart conditions.
“Congenital heart defects are often that missed opportunity for folks to recognize that there are people out there that could really use some support and sometimes it’s just encouragement,” said Hannah.
In addition to providing emotional support, Cardwell stated that another way to help is by sharing information about Jamie’s Heart with anyone that has a congenital heart defect and is financially struggling. Donations for the nonprofit can be made through Jamie Heart Foundation’s website.
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