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Students show great heart for child in need

Generate pop tabs for donation to Ronald McDonald House

Staff writer

Every mother’s nightmare is hearing that something is not right with her child. For Ashley Adams of Haysville, those words were a mouthful — critical congenital heart defects.

Congenital heart defects can be something as simple as a weak heart murmur. However, Adams’ son Brillyn was diagnosed with nine serious and dangerous defects that left his family stunned.

Juanita Richstatter of Peabody is Brillyn’s grandmother. She has served as Peabody-Burns Elementary School secretary for several decades and is accustomed to dealing with young children who have debilitating illnesses and special needs. However, nothing in her experience prepared her for Brillyn’s health problems.

“We call him our miracle baby,” she said. “And he truly is. He was diagnosed with CCHD before he was born. The doctors insisted he be delivered at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City because his case was so complicated.

“He was operated on immediately after he was born. The incision was ‘packed’ and left open for four days so they could monitor him,” she said. “He was a sick little boy.”

Brillyn’s heart was on the wrong side of his body. It had grown backward. Instead of four chambers, it had only two.

He faces multiple surgeries as his body grows and changes, Richstatter said. He spent the first year of his life getting nourishment through a feeding tube. His medications, heart rate, and oxygen level were constantly monitored by machines.

CCHD prevents the heart from pumping blood and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood, in effect not feeding enough oxygen to his organs to sustain them. If untreated, CCHD can lead to shock, coma, and death.

“His mom had to take training to perform CPR on an infant,” Richstatter said. “If the feeding tube came out she had to know how to put it back in. We couldn’t even give her a breather because we weren’t trained.”

Brillyn is now an active and charming 3-year old who has seen the inside of more hospital rooms than most people who are 10 times his age. He has had nine surgeries. He will return to Children’s Mercy in June for more repair work. The stay will last about four weeks.

Brillyn’s hospital and medical bills are covered, but his family will stay in Kansas City to be close to him through his surgery and recovery. Children’s Mercy Hospital Ronald McDonald House will provide lodging. There is no charge to families who stay at the house, but they are asked to contribute what they can when possible.

Several programs help Ronald McDonald Houses offer free lodging to families by helping pay expenses of maintaining the facility. One such program is the Pop Tab Collection Program at the Children’s Mercy Hospital house. In 2014, the program raised $30,000 by gathering 15 tons of aluminum pop tabs.

Last summer Richstatter learned about the pop tab program and talked to Superintendent Ron Traxson about getting PBES students involved with the collection process.

“I thought it would be a great project for the kids and we might end up with a couple hundred or so pop tabs to contribute to the house in Kansas City,” she said. “It seemed like an easy project, one that all the kids could participate in.”

Richstatter put quart-size jars in the rooms in February thinking the students could probably get them filled by the end of the school year.

“The kids really surprised me,” she said. “They wanted to help and they were so enthusiastic. One class filled its first jar in about four days and just kept on bringing in pop tabs.”

As the mountain of pop tabs grew, the students got additional help from elementary school students in Valley Center where Peabody resident Donna Glover teaches. Peabody American Legion members also had a gallon jug they were filling.

By the end of the school year, Peabody-Burns students filled four large copy paper boxes and three jugs, gallon-size and larger. On Thursday, the last day of school, students were still coming into the office with their final donations from home.

“I want the community to know what great kids we have and how much they have helped the house in Kansas City,” Richstatter said. “The pop tabs will not only help Brillyn’s family when they stay there, but other families as well.”

Traxson added his praise for the students’ enthusiasm and efforts.

“There was just an amazing response from our kids. Brillyn has been here a couple of times to visit with them. It has been a good all-around experience,” he said. “I was totally surprised at how many tabs they collected. Never did I think they would bring in that many. I am really proud of them and their efforts for this little boy.”

Last modified May 21, 2015

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