Horizon students show heart

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By Traci Chapman

Horizon Intermediate students showed how much heart they have and how much they care for their teachers during a recent event that raised almost $4,700 for the American Heart Association.

Students made the money – more than $4,671 – during Hoops for Heart, surpassing the school’s $2,000 goal by “a mile,” teacher Joy Osborne said. Their effort was somewhat unusual for children because they did it for someone close to them – fifth grade science teacher Lauren Tilley, whose son Elijah was born in September 2012 with a severe congenital heart defect.

“The students were so proud of themselves,” Tilley said. “They knew they were making a difference even if they only collected $5.”

Tilley’s story touched students’ hearts and was the kind of thing that made parents realize how lucky they were to have healthy children, Osborne said. After a time of great joy – in February 2012 learning she was pregnant with twins – Tilley said everything changed during the 22nd week of her pregnancy.

“We found out about Elijah’s severe congenital heart defect – at that same time the doctors saw that I was starting to have complications and contractions and the babies were trying to come really early,” Tilley said. “It was a blow that I cannot describe.”

Elijah was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, basically classified as having only half a heart, Tilley said. The disease kept the left ventricle in her baby’s heart from developing properly, a condition that until the late 1980s was a death sentence. The Tilleys were lucky, however – through all of the heartbreak and worry, there was always a glimmer of hope for their son, she said.

“We had a lot of ups and downs,” Tilley said. “Plans were broken, re-worked, hopes were brought up and then shattered.”

Elijah had his first surgery in October 2012; about three weeks later, he went into cardiac arrest and came back. During that time it looked like he was too fragile for a needed procedure to repair his heart, but he surprised his doctors and rebounded back. Doctors performed the procedure – called a Norwood – in November 2012.

“It is a very risky procedure,” Tilley said. “Elijah came through with flying colors – in all he was in the hospital for over 90 days.”

 All of this took place in Dallas, at Children’s Medical Center. Finally, when Elijah was seven months old he was able to come home for the first time and see his twin sister. While another surgery is on the horizon, Tilley said she counts all of the blessings Elijah brings.

“He is a fighter and a true testimony to strength and courage, he has taught me how valuable life is,” she said. “It is a daily struggle to fight the fear and emotions that come with this and how it effects our family but we are getting through it together.”

As Elijah has brought Tilley strength, she has shown courage to her students, who were inspired to work to raise the Hoops for Heart funds, as well as work to improve their own health during the month-long event. It was a project embraced not only by students, but also by teachers and staff throughout Horizon, Tilley and Osborne said. As Tilley brought others strength, they gave her encouragement and love that helped her get through the difficult months, she said.

“This has been a great learning experience for the students,” Tilley said. “Friends and family have been such a support and I love sharing our story – you never know who it might touch or reach.”

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