For the annual Make a Difference project at Resurrection Catholic School in Evansville, each student is given $5 and challenged to use it to benefit the community. After talking with her parents Mark and Sandy Ambrose, first-grader Claire Ambrose decided to donate hers to the Riley Heart Center.
But the 7-year-old didn’t stop there. She asked her mother to videotape her asking others to do the same and to put the video on Facebook. The overwhelming response grew Claire’s $5 to $813, which her parents matched for a $1,626 gift to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
The Riley Heart Center has been important to the Ambrose family since before Claire's birth. She was diagnosed prenatally with truncus arteriosis, a rare heart defect that is fatal without a complex surgical correction. "These children are born without a main pulmonary valve,” explains Riley Pediatric Heart Surgeon John Brown, M.D. Twelve days after Claire was born on May 13, 2010, Dr. Brown created a pathway for blood to flow from the right side of her heart to her lungs. That was followed by a second open-heart surgery in October that “seemed to work its magic" as Sandy Ambrose says.
Claire’s replacement valve is the result of research done in Riley's own laboratories in the 1980s and is used around the world, Dr. Brown notes. "We keep trying to develop and improve these materials," he adds.
The Riley Heart Center is internationally recognized for basic and translational cardiovascular research. It provides Indiana’s most comprehensive and research-based pediatric cardiology care, with more than 475 heart surgeries annually, including Indiana’s only pediatric heart transplantation program. "We realize the value of what Riley can offer,” Mark Ambrose says. “Our local services are good, but Dr. Brown, Dr. Farrell, and the whole cardiology team at Riley gave us the opportunity to be parents."
Claire will eventually outgrow her valve and need another, says Riley Pediatric Cardiologist, Anne Farrell, M.D., "She’s not ‘fixed.’ She has a lifetime of having a heart problem and an artificial valve,” Dr. Farrell says. “Her parents have embraced that and done their part to raise funds and awareness in the community."
The Ambrose family has participated in Riley Dance Marathons and is active in their local chapter of Mended Little Hearts, a networking and support group.
As part of the Make a Difference project, Claire reported to her class on why she chose Riley. She explained that she wanted other "heart kids" to be able to enjoy popsicles at the Heart Center. She wanted to thank her team at Riley for being so nice.
Most of all, she wanted to show other kids how to be brave.