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Stories of the Heart – A little fighter inspires others to give back

January 9, 2023

Stories of the Heart – A little fighter inspires others to give back

A testimony from Leah Martin, Employee Engagement Coordinator – PSA Airlines

I began volunteering with the Children’s Miracle Network nearly a decade ago. Little did I know that those experiences would change the way I view each day. Through volunteer efforts, I had the privilege of getting to know one of the most families I’ve ever met – the Van Asten’s.

I am honored to share the story of their son Pearce’s health condition, as told by his mother.  “Pearce was born at Children’s Hospital of Milwaukee, WI, on Nov. 5, 2007. There were about 10 doctors and nurses in the delivery room and we were only able to hold him for a few minutes before he was taken down to the NICU for care. Pearce was diagnosed with many heart defects, making his situation complex. He has a hole in the middle of the heart, termed an AV Canal, with ventricular inversion. This means the walls of the four chambers of the heart did not completely close, and the sides of the heart are switched around. His heart is mid-line in his body instead of being on the left side. The heart also has L-transposition of the great arteries (TGA), meaning the Aorta and Pulmonary Artery are switched around. The left ventricle is underdeveloped, meaning it doesn’t function as well as it should.

Our family remained in the hospital, and at 10 days old, Pearce had his first open-heart surgery. He had a shunt inserted to help keep the blood flowing to his lungs appropriately. Pearce did well with the surgery and was able to go home. We were so happy to be home as a family, and Pearce did great over the next year.

Shortly after his first birthday, he went back down to Milwaukee for his second surgery – the BiDirectional Glenn Procedure. This surgery is to divert half of the blood to the lungs when circulation through the lungs no longer needs as much pressure from the ventricle. Pearce had his third open-heart surgery – the Fontan Procedure – on May 2, 2013. The oxygen-poor blood from the upper and lower body would now flow through the lungs without being pumped, driven only by the pressure that builds up in the veins. Pearce was expected to fly through the surgery but due to complications, he needed to undergo another procedure, called Pleurodesis, to eliminate fluid buildup around his lungs. Finally, after 45 days, we heard the amazing words that everything looked good and we could go home to be with Pearce and our two other boys.”

After I learned about Pearce’s story, I was inspired to continue volunteering with the CMN and was fortunate enough to have Pearce as my “Champ Child.” This meant I was responsible for planning fundraising events and activities with him to raise money for the CMN. For the many years I have known Pearce and his family, they’ve endured more surgeries, tests, and pain than anyone should have to in their lifetime.

Today, Pearce is a healthy, loving and energetic, 12-year-old who is constantly reminded of his heart defects and the miracles he has overcome. Getting to know Pearce sparked my passion for giving back to the community, making time to volunteer, and understanding the importance of lending a helping hand. I encourage everyone to find their own story of working to help others in need — someone like my little friend Pearce. You never know how your life may change for the better as a result.


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