story and photos by Julie Bagley
More than 50 members of the American Heart Association’s Circle of Red of Bentonville gathered recently to donate toys to Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
While women gathering to donate toys to sick children isn’t a new idea, it is a personal one for one member of the group.
Meredith Palmer recently visited Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock and noticed a mother whose daughter was sick. She was struck by the strength of the mother during a horrible time.
That woman was Alicia Funa, manager of category insights for Wal-Mart at Tyson Foods. Her daughter Aubrey was born Oct. 2, and a problem in her heart was quickly discovered and things began to move fast for Aubrey and her mother Alicia.
Two days later, Aubrey was taken by private plan to Arkansas Children’s Hospital diagnosed with transposition of the great vessels. It’s a congenital heart defect where the pulmonary artery and aorta are switched. On Oct. 12, little Aubrey underwent open-heart surgery.
During that time, Alicia understandably experienced a wide-range of emotions.
“It was sad seeing other sick children. I was so upset but then I would see other children who were worse-off than Aubrey,” said Alicia.
She said she would feel guilty about being upset but the world-class doctors and nurses and spirit of the children who were recovering gave her new resolve.
“Seeing the staff pull the children through heart transplants was heart-warming and amazing,” recalled Alicia.
After a battle with a staph infection on her surgical side, Aubrey is now at home and barring a doctor’s visit Dec. 13 she will receive a clean-bill of health.
“I had such a good experience at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. I immediately wanted to give back,” said Alicia, “I heard about Circle of Red and this is such a great start to give back toys in Aubrey’s honor.”
Those dozens of toys littered the downstairs living room of Biffy Fletcher’s home Tuesday night. Fletcher is director of sales and marketing of the Wal-Mart Customer Team for Blue Bunny. She’s been a Circle of Red member for three years after her own health scare.
“I found myself in the emergency room with chest pains,” recalled Fletcher. “I spent a couple of days in the hospital for a potential heart attack. It wasn’t that but I saw the amazing technology and the energy to help heart patients and I’ve been involved in this group and executive leadership team for the Heart Ball.”
The group usually holds a holiday party but after Palmer’s experience, the event tuned into one of celebration but also one of giving back.
“It’s a very diverse group of women. We are all here for the same cause. We are here to educate and raise funds for what’s dear to us,” said Fletcher. The cause is dear to 85 members of the Circle of Red, making it the largest group in the country.
While Development Director of the NWA Office of Arkansas Children’s Hospital Kim Dutton said a lot of toys will be donated this time of year, this donation is special because of the connection to baby Aubrey.
“There is nothing worse, if you are a child, to spend Christmas in the hospital,” said Dutton.
The hospital’s volunteer services department received a list of what the children wanted for the holidays and that’s what the Circle of Red women used to donate the toys.
More than 350 children will be in the hospital during the holidays.
“We appreciate the support especially around the holiday season,” said Dutton, “These women are concerned with the heart association so these gifts will go the cardiac patients.”