The UofL community has been working for months to raise money for the Kentuckiana Heart Walk, an annual event sponsored by the American Heart Association to raise funds for research, education and advocacy for heart disease and stroke.
But for one employee the effort hits closer to home.
Violet Ehringer, daughter of Erica Osborne, program manager at UofL’s Kent School of Social Work and a UofL alum, has struggled with a rare congenital heart defect since birth.
This year, Violet will be crowned as Queen of the 2017 Kentuckiana Heart Walk, held Sept. 23 at Waterfront Park.
UofL will have 35 teams participating in the walk including Osborne’s team, the Kent School Heartbeats. The UofL teams have collectively raised more than $35,000, with almost $4,000 coming from the Kent School Heartbeats.
UofLNews had the chance to talk to Osborne about her daughter’s condition and what it means for her to be mother of the Queen:
UofLNews: How/when did your daughter’s condition develop?
Osborne: Violet was born full-term on November 6, 2015 weighing in at over 9 pounds. Though the pregnancy had been normal, and all ultrasounds had been normal, Violet’s oxygen levels were low. Her lungs collapsed, and she was placed on a ventilator. A few hours later, she was diagnosed with Total Pulmonary Venous Return (TAPVR) a very rare congenital heart defect that impacts about 1 in 20,000 children. It’s when the pulmonary veins that are supposed to connect the left part of the heart to the right part of the heart don’t connect. She was taken by ambulance to the NICU at what is now known as Norton Children’s Hospital. While she was there, she developed a blood clot that damaged her liver, and pulmonary hypertension. She was very, very critical. After almost 2 weeks in the NICU, her doctors decided she needed more advanced level care and she was taken by ambulance to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital where she had open heart surgery on November 20, 2015. We were able to bring her home 10 days later.
UofLNews: What has been the treatment process?
Osborne: For the first few weeks after we brought her home, she was on a feeding tube. And for the first several months, we had to give her shots twice daily due to the blood clots. She also underwent a year of physical therapy to help her get caught up to other kids her age. There were also frequent visits to cardiologist in Cincinnati. But in December 2016, she was given the all clear to take a year between cardiology visits.
If you saw her today, you would never guess what all she has been through. She is a normal, energetic, always on the go toddler. She runs after her older sister, Evelyn, 5, and older brother, Paul Alan, 3. She will always be under the care of a cardiologist, but her future is bright.
UofLNews: Why was your daughter picked for the Kentuckiana Heart Walk?
Osborne: While Violet was in the NICU in Louisville, her cardiologist Dr. Delwyn McCombre (also a UofL grad), told me that we didn’t lose hope. So I planned Violet’s first birthday party. I imagined this big over-the-top celebration. And the second thing I did was to imagine myself talking to others about what Violet had been through. If she recovered, I wanted to spread awareness about congenital heart defects.
So, one day, I was at work, and I saw the email announcement about getting involved with the American Heart Association’s Kentuckiana Heart Walk, and I thought – ‘this is it.’ This is my chance to do the thing that I had imagined myself doing. At the first meeting that I went to, the AHA representative said that they needed a Heart Queen, and asked if anyone knew of a child who had a heart issue. And I was like, ‘yes!‘
UofLNews: What does being Queen of the Heart Walk entail?
Osborne: As the Heart Walk Queen, Violet has been involved in a few Heart Walk rallies and photo shoots. She will officially be crowned on the day of the Heart Walk. We also got to make an appearance with Dawne Gee on Wave 3. As the mother of the Queen, I’ve gotten a chance to speak to several groups about Violet’s story, working to both spread awareness and raise money for the walk. Additionally, my team, the Kent School Heartbeats, has been working hard to raise money through several different fundraisers.
UofLNews: What does it mean to you to have your daughter named Queen of the Heart Walk?
Osborne: Violet has come so very far. But I can close my eyes, and I’m instantly back in that hospital, listening to the sound of her ventilator. Before Violet was born, I didn’t know that congenital heart defects impact 1 out of every 110 children. And I know that there are parents out there going through the same thing that we did. And I know how scared they are. And I know how hopeless they feel. I hope that Violet serving as Queen gives them hope. I hope they see her and think, “If that kid can make it, so can ours.”
General donations to the Kentuckiana Heart Walk can be made here or to search for a specific team go here.