story and photos by Julie Bagley
Hundreds turned out Saturday night (Jan. 26) at Fayetteville’s Town Center in their best red ensemble to raise money for the American Heart Association and honor a Fayetteville toddler with a heart defect.
Paint the Town Red is half party, half fundraiser. This is the first fundraiser for the season for the AHA with Go Red for Women in February, Heart Walk in April and the Heart Ball in May.
While the Heart Walk raises one million dollars, Paint the Town Red raises $250,000.
“77 cents of tonight’s funds will go to heart disease research and education,” said Stephanie Daniels, corporate market director at American Heart Association.
She said the night was a party with a purpose highlighting 2- year-old Keeten Heskett.
As you might expect of most toddler’s, he’s a precocious boy who loves trucks and just so happens to suffer from tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia. There are five characteristics of the heart defect: a hole between the right and left ventricles, the aorta moves toward the right side of the heart, the right ventricle becomes abnormally enlarged, no connection between the right ventricle and pulmonary artery and the pulmonary arteries are abnormal.
There is no clear reason for the defect. Its development happens during the first eight-weeks of fetal growth. It is a genetic link in some severe cases. Heskett falls into the severe case, his mother also suffers from the same defect.
“Technology is advancing,” Ashley Hollingsworth, Heskett’s aunt said, “He has gone through four open-heart surgeries. His best option is to have a heart transplant.”
During the event, a special offering will be presented to those attending to give to Heskett. His picture flashed on big screens on both sides of the ballroom to remind everyone of this little boy’s fight at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
“This (night) is tremendous. He is one of many (children) who suffer from heart disease and heart defects but for him to be honored it means a lot,” said Hollingsworth.
Heskett’s uncle, Gabe Burns, said before being asked to address the crowd at the event, the family was unsure of how to bring awareness to Heskett's case.
“This is huge for us. It’s stressful. We are trying to offset their cost of living and it’s been a strain. We had a couple of meetings to try to figure out what we can do to raise awareness,” Burns said.
His wife Stephanie became emotional when asked why giving to the American Heart Association means so much.
“Go down to Arkansas Children’s Hospital and see the children admitted,” she said, “Do they have children,” Gabe added, “Let me know when someone takes it away from you. It’s a number’s game and you will be affected.”
Heart disease is the nation’s number one killer, with one in three suffering from some type of the disease.
“It will affect you directly, your family, spouse or child,” Daniels said, “Because of that we haven’t seen a decline in giving.”
In the past three years, Northwest Arkansas’ American Heart Association has tripled its income. For Paint the Town Red, more than 125 items were up for silent auction with the highest item priced at $3,600.
No matter how much is raised, Heskett will wake-up tomorrow playing with what he calls his “vrooms” not acting like he’s sick.
“He has a positive attitude. He takes every day with what he’s got. He’s got a cape and mask at the hospital because he’s my little super hero,” Hollingsworth said.