Big Hearts to Little Hearts Foundation raises money for congenital heart disease research at Rutgers
The first collegiate chapter of the Big Hearts to Little Hearts Foundation at Rutgers has been tirelessly working to raise awareness and funds for congenital heart disease.
Congenital heart disease is the number one birth defect-related killer, and each year more children die from congenital heart defects than all forms of pediatric cancer combined, according to the Big Hearts to Little Hearts Website.
The main goal of the organization is to spread awareness for the disease as well as accumulate donations for hospitals conducting research. Though highly prevalent in the United States, congenital heart disease is a widely underfunded cause, said Liam Ramsay, a School of Engineering junior and president of the Rutgers chapter.
“It’s hard to tell if someone has congenital heart disease unless you see the scars on their chest. It’s a very shrouded defect … Hospitals and organizations do a great job of advertising all the great things they do for cancer research, but essentially there aren’t as many organizations raising awareness for congenital heart disease,” Ramsay said.
The parent organization for Big Hearts to Little Hearts was first founded in 2003 in New Jersey, and has recently expanded to Florida, while the Rutgers chapter began only two years ago, Ramsay said.
Ramsay’s family took control of the organization in 2005 after experiencing first-hand the effects of congenital heart disease when their son was diagnosed, inspiring Ramsay to start the first ever collegiate chapter here at Rutgers, he said.
“My youngest brother, Joseph, was born with hypoplastic right heart syndrome, which is a defect in one of the ventricles in his heart. He ended up having two operations before the age of one. He’s fine now, thankfully, but it’s because of all the recent research he made it,” Ramsay said.
Ramsay said if his brother was born only five years earlier, he probably would not have survived. He said he believes in 1950, the survival rate for congenital heart disease was about 20 percent, and now it is about 90 percent.
The parent organization also holds a walk-a-thon each November, normally along the boardwalk of Manasquan Beach, as an annual fundraiser to raise money for the families affected.
The Rutgers chapter has recently begun working closely with Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to promote awareness for congenital heart disease, as well as promote overall heart health. Ramsay said he believes it is important to reach out to the community and work together to spread this message.
The biggest challenge for Ramsay and his board of six officers has been learning how to work together to make this chapter as successful as possible. So far, they have conducted several blood drives with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and hope to table at Rutgers Day and plan more events for their members and students, Ramsay said.
The most rewarding experience for members is being able to see the benefits of all their hard work aid in improving the lives of the children affected, said James Mack, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and officer on the board for the Rutgers chapter.
“Fighting for this cause has been very gratifying and has opened my eyes to the trials and tribulations that families go through when their child is diagnosed with congenital heart disease. Meeting children who are diagnosed with congenital heart disease and seeing how happy they are reminds me each and every day that nothing is impossible,” Mack said. “No matter what your circumstances are, you can always make the best of your life. Being a part of the great Big Hearts to Little Hearts community has given me a great cause to live for and work for."
Ramsay said that although he is a junior and will soon be graduating, he hopes that the Rutgers chapter will not only continue to thrive but continue the mission he and his officers have started.
“What I want to leave here is a well-running organization. It doesn’t have to be the biggest or the best, but the fact there is something here at Rutgers that is benefitting these kids in need is all that really matters. As long as this organization is continuing to get more people to realize congenital heart disease is an issue and needs to be benefitted — that’s the greatest legacy I could leave here,” Ramsay said.
Marissa Scognamiglio is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.