Ten. Ten. Ten. It’s a number I can’t quite wrap my mind around.  How would ten look on you, Braden?  I see the actions of your seven year old brother, and I see your smile in your three year old sister, and I wonder…  Moments like today, moments that remind me of what I’m missing are the hardest part of your loss.  Happy Birthday B-Man!!  Thank you for blessing us with your presence, especially today.  Love & miss you more than you’ll ever know.



Braden on his 2nd Birthday

Birthdays are always tough as there are always a million “what if’s” on a day like today.   As Rich had his first day back at school, I was able to bring the kiddos to the beach to swim and play in the sand.  We were blessed with a cardinal sitting on our front step this morning and a lady bug landing on my finger at lunch – B’s presence is always noted.

As the grief lingers within, heavy with its presence, I struggle to find the right words to truly capture today and where we are at on this journey.  I listen to the words of this song and feel lighter – I pray that this song can be encouraging to any of you who are walking through struggles of your own right now.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”


Another part of this “ten” message is to share that this past Saturday we embarked on ten full years of fundraising for Heart of Gold as we held our final golf outing.  It was a beautiful day that surely captured love, celebration, and generosity as we raised over $28,000 for Heart of Gold Charity – AMAZING!!  This was our top fundraiser!!



John 1:5  “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”



Ball drop – Braden’s love of firetrucks made this part of our event extra special

Below are the words that were shared on Saturday:

Someone once told me that God’s presence is often shown through the love, support, and generosity of people, others who will help carry you when you have lost your way and need help putting one foot in front of the other.  Those who will walk beside you, supporting a mission like heart of gold and will do whatever it takes, traveling great distances, and making sacrifices to be here tonight.  The reason I share this is not only because of my faith and what I believe, but because this is where Heart of Gold originated – through people, their generosity, and a heart to serve another family, our family.

The beginning.  As most of you know, Braden was born with an undiagnosed heart defect, Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a congenital heart defect where he was born without a left ventricle – he was basically born with 1/2 a heart.  Braden underwent two open heart surgeries at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin by the time he was four months old.  During this time, the outpour of support, gifts, and monetary donations we received blew Rich and I away.  We were inspired to somehow use these finances to start a trust fund or create something to give back as a way to honor those who have helped us.  Rich and I started to brainstorm ideas – our mission, our name, our purpose.  And with the assistance of my cousin, Terri Ollis, Heart of Gold Charity was born.  If you have never been in a situation where you have spent a long period of time at a hospital, it is a time where it can be considerably lonely and confining.  You start to question if life is still moving beyond the four walls of a hospital room.  The purpose of our gift bags allows families to see that they are not alone.  I will share with you a few words from the social workers who have acted as a liaison between us and the heart families.

Providing the heart bag to parents often ‘bridges the gap’ and opens up conversation with the families.

The teddy bear is ALWAYS a plus for the sibling(s) of a child who is in the CICU.  I’ve witnessed a little girl who would not put the bear down while her sibling was in surgery.  It gave her comfort and subsequently provided comfort to the parents as well.

The onesie is always a hit.  I have literally taken it out of the bag while standing by the baby’s bed with a parent.  I’ve held it up and referred to the baby as a champion and a fighter.  This always makes a very anxious, tearful parent smile.

Our families are often in the hospital with their children for months and months.  Often one or both leave their jobs in order to be available to the healthcare team and near their child.  The financial burden on families is great.    When they receive the bag and explore it’s contents, many are amazed that someone (your charity) would pay it forward and help them in their time of need. 

So far Heart of Gold Charity has been able to help 840 families –  YOU have all made that possible.

We also wanted a way to give back to the doctors and nurses who allowed Braden to thrive in his 2.5 years of life and who have helped give us a lifetime of memories.  <Some of Braden’s doctors and nurses are here tonight – Dr. Cava, Dr. Ghanayem, Anne, Jenny, Melissa, thank you! > Giving scholarships to those who have a heart to serve in the medical field, we felt, was the best way to inspire others to continue to pave the path of medicine.  To see the normal life that Braden was able to live and thrive with only half a heart, because of the advancement in medicine, is an absolute miracle. So far we have awarded 52 individuals with $1,000 scholarships.

When I think of our Braden, when I think of his life, I am reminded of the scripture on the back of your program, Romans 8:28:  “And God works all things for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  Losing a child is one of the most crippling moments one will ever experience – you are forever changed.  However, out of darkness, came light – beautiful moments of giving, kindness, support, love, and some of the most generous, selfless acts of generosity that we have ever witnessed.  Braden’s life and death has made an incredible impact on so many people.  There are so many, but I will highlight just a few:  shortly after Braden passed, a couple of young girls (who aren’t so little anymore) in our neighborhood would sell some of their toys and have a lemonade stand to raise money for Heart of Gold.  Another young lady who we just met today was so touched by Braden’s story that she too has raised money with her lemonade stand and this year lead her girl scout troop to fundraise for Heart of Gold.  The Johnsburg girls basketball team coached by Bill Ewert pledged to give a dollar for every basket they scored.  They were able to donate over $700 to Heart of Gold.  Anne, one of the first nurses who cared for Braden before he was diagnosed with HLHS, who felt in her gut that Braden needed more medical attention and needed to be transferred ASAP was inspired to go back to school so she could teach nursing students how to advocate for their patients who need special medical attention.  And I can’t forget to highlight our beautiful children who gave us back our joy and allowed our hearts to heal.

Although this is our last outing, Heart of Gold Charity will continue to thrive with current funds and donations we receive throughout the year.  And as we close tonight, after our silent auction, we will be launching ten gold lanterns to not only recognize our ten years as a Charity and how our B would be ten next Wednesday, but to symbolize the light that has overcome darkness.  Matthew 5:16 says:  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  Be the light so other can do the same.

Be the Light


One thought on “Ten.

  1. Steph, it is so refreshing to read what you have to relate to us. It is like sitting across a table and just talking with you. I am blessed as I have been able to have conversations with you like that. I hope others can understand this is so you, and it comes directly from your heart.
    The bible verses you insert are so meaningful and support all you stand for and the struggles you have faced. They truly radiate the love of God through you, like a beautiful light.
    Trying to imagine Braden at Ten is truly the full range of emotions. You have presented the feelings you have for Braden forward so as to help us with how we remember Braden.
    Thank you for sharing with us the feelings you have for Braden, to see through your eyes is truly your gift to us.

    Bill Ewert


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