Child’s death spawns foundation that helps families

Staff writerFebruary 25, 2013 

They lost her in the minutes before New Year’s Day 2006, a 2-year-old who seemed so close to overcoming a congenital heart defect.

Corina Hannah remembers her husband, Tim, turning to her moments after Jamie died.

“I was shaken to the core,” she said. “My husband took my chin in his hand, looked me in the eyes and said, ‘We will get through this.’ His belief and strength, his resolve – I never questioned we would.”

The Hannahs and their four children now live in Puyallup, where Tim is the manager of the city’s 911 communications center – and the founder of a charity that couldn’t be more personal, the Jamie’s Heart Foundation.

An all-volunteer organization, the only operational costs are a website and Tim’s cellphone.

“We’re small potatoes, and a very big deal,” he said.

The idea for an organization to help families dealing with a child’s health is nothing new, but as the Hannahs dealt with Jamie’s medications, hospitals and surgeries, a realization came to Tim.

“When we were in the cardio unit,” Tim said, “we were there with friends and family, but there was another family there with a child. The mother would spend half the day there, then go to work. The father would spend the other half day there and then he’d work.

“Corina and I were able to share the pressure, the fear. They weren’t.”

Four months after his daughter’s death, Tim went to work on Jamie’s Heart Foundation.

“Insurance may take care of the medical bills, but there are so many other things that come up for families with a child in the hospital,” he said. “You take time off at work to be at the hospital, maybe you miss a bill, can’t make the rent for a month.

“We want to help fill a gap. Our average contribution is about $1,500 a family. That’s the type of assistance we can do. We want both Mom and Dad to be at the bedside. That should happen for every family.”

Each year, Jamie’s Heart helps 25 to 30 families with children with heart disease, operating on an annual budget of about $35,000. The families are exclusively from the Northwest – Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

“The advantage of our foundation, and doctors and hospital staffs refer parents to us, is that we have walked through it,” Tim said. “We are a resource for those going through it now. We’ve been in similar shoes – not the same shoes.”

Jamie was the Hannahs’ third child, and a few days after her birth a pediatrician found what he thought was a heart murmur. The Hannahs went to a specialist, were told Jamie had a rare congenital heart disease, but that surgery was a worst-case scenario.

Months later, she needed a minor surgery. A year later, in October, a major surgery, performed in only a few places in the country, including Seattle. Jamie came home nine days later.

“Corina’s parents took the whole extended family to Hawaii, and after we cleared it with Jamie’s doctors, we flew over the day after Christmas,” Tim said. “While we were there, Jamie got sick. We took her to an emergency room. They told us she was OK, that she had the flu.

“On New Year’s Eve, just before midnight, we were giving her medication and she passed out in my wife’s arms. I told her to call 911, grabbed Jamie and began CPR. I kept going until paramedics arrived. I think I knew then she was gone …”

Corina was pregnant, and the Hannahs flew home with children Peyton, then 6, and Megan, 4, trying to explain to them where their little sister was. The stress of the next few months led to Henry being born two months premature.

“Tim and I handle things differently, and we knew that,” Corina said. “We grieved together, but differently. I supported him completely when he began the foundation. I just wasn’t ready to be part of it.”

Today, they’ve both active in working with the families Jamie’s Heart assists. It has helped them, but neither is ever far from that New Year’s Eve.

“Every family we help, every check we write, I think of Jamie,” Tim said. “I just really miss my daughter.”

Corina has a house full – four healthy children, including Andrew, who’s 4.

And working with Jamie’s Heart?

“It’s still difficult for me,” she said. “My heart breaks for the families I see, and still some days you ask, ‘Why?’ These kids have gone through so much. Still, I sometimes wonder what happened with us.

“It’s made me way more empathetic. I’m more conscious of people in general, what they may have been through five minutes ago, five days ago. It’s made me kinder. I give people a pass if they’re short.”

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638
larry.larue@thenewstribune.com

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the Jamie’s Heart Foundation or to contribute, go to jamiesheart.org or write to the Jamie's Heart Foundation, 2732 E. Main Ave., Puyallup, WA 98372

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