Grateful Mom Passionate About Giving Back to The Heart Center Through the Red Balloon Run & Ride

March 13, 2014

Seven-year-old Shayna Strauss loves to dance, shop, get manicures and eat sushi. Shayna’s mom, Dawn, is beyond thankful to see her spunky first grader always on the go, because Shayna’s life did not start out that way. 
Dawn recently wrote a letter to herself back in 2007 that recounts the first days in The Heart Center at Children’s after Shayna’s diagnosis with congenital heart defects. In the touching letter below, she also talks about her family’s passion to give back through Team Shayna during the annual Red Balloon Run and Ride.

Dear November 2007 Dawn,


I see you sitting in the chair next to Shayna’s bed in the  Cardiac ICU. Sleep isn’t happening. How could it? A chair in the midst of beeping machines, doctors and nurses rotating in and out isn’t exactly the most peaceful setting. You have plenty of time to think.


Shayna is now one day out of surgery. After a whirlwind few weeks of testing, diagnosis of left coronary artery atresia and mitral valve regurgitation, and open heart surgery, you can finally start to think about what comes next.


I see you struggling. I see you mourning the life that you thought you were going to lead. A life of little worry and a perfectly healthy child is no longer an option. I see you wondering, “What now?” 


How do I look ahead at the rest of my life knowing that I will be living it as the mother of a child with congenital heart defects?”    


The Night I’ll Never Forget

I wish I could go back to that night in the ICU. I wish I could give you a hug and tell you that you are going to remember this night forever. You are going to remember the pain of the diagnosis, waiting for the surgery to end and living at Children’s for 11 days.


You are going to use these memories and feelings as your driving force. You are going to find a way to say thank you to everyone at Children’s. You are going to try as hard as you possibly can to make this path a lot easier for the next woman who has to redefine herself as a mother of a child with congenital heart defects.


A Passion for Giving Back
In 2010, while surfing the Children’s website, you will discover
  Passion for Children’s Inc., a nonprofit that is putting together the Red Balloon Run & Ride, an event that raises money for Children’s.


Sounds great, right? Even better, Passion for Children’s allows you to  form a team to participate in the 5k, and as a team captain, you can designate which area of the hospital 100% of the money you raise will go.


In July 2010, you start Team Shayna and set out to raise $1,000 for The Heart Center at Children’s. You’re not sure if this will be a one-time thing or if you’ll try to raise $1,000 every year. Only 24 hours after you send out that first email to family and friends letting them know that you are fundraising on Shayna’s behalf for this wonderful place that literally saved her life, you will have raised $1,000.


And then the most amazing thing will happen. Team Shayna will take on a life of its own. It will bring people together, it will raise money and it will raise awareness. Against all odds, it will make this diagnosis and this life of a mother with a chronically ill child something that you can live with, something that you are proud of.


Going Above and Beyond
Your friends and family will thank you for giving them a way to make a difference in honor of Shayna. Strangers will contact you and ask how they can help. Can you believe that your local Starbucks will plan “Team Shayna Day” and will decorate the store with red balloons and set out jars to collect money?


Remember that first $1,000 you set out to raise? When Team Shayna finishes its first Red Balloon Run & Ride in October 2010, you will have raised well over $13,000. That money will go directly to The Heart Center in Shayna’s honor. But that’s just the beginning. 


In 2011, Team Shayna will raise more than $7,000 and starts one of your favorite traditions – Team Shayna’s Annual PINK Lemonade stand. Team Shayna makes giving easy, fun and something even young children can get involved with.


You will make a few speeches this year to share Shayna’s story, and you will appear on Good Morning Texas. You will spread the word that congenital heart defects do happen but that we are so lucky to have a facility like Children’s to take care of us when they do.


In 2012, Team Shayna’s second annual PINK Lemonade stand will raise more than $800 and makes the CBS local evening news. You’ll decide to throw a fundraising night at a local burger restaurant that will donate 10% of the evening sales back to Team Shayna, and you’ll tell the restaurant to prepare for 20 to 30 people.


So when 200 of Team Shayna’s friends show up to support you? Well, you make a burger place run out of food. Your Crossfit gym will come to support Team Shayna at the Red Balloon Run & Ride and will find people to sponsor them for the number of burpees (squat thrusts) they do after running the 5k race. 2012 will end with Team Shayna raising more than $14,000.

Now it’s 2014. Team Shayna kicked off fundraising on January 1, and you will fundraise through the event on April 26. You will have another great event at Fuddrucker’s with almost 250 of your friends. Fifteen percent of the evening sales combined with a raffle that you put together will raise more than $1,200 for the evening.


Here we are in mid-February as I write this letter, and Team Shayna has already raised $9,200. You are aiming to raise $10,000 this year, although you would not be opposed to raising $15,000. That would mean that in four years of participating in the Red Balloon Run & Ride, Team Shayna will have raised $50,000 for The Heart Center at Children’s.


Grateful for a Fresh Start
So 2007 Dawn, would you like to know what life is like in 2014? That 15-month-old hooked up to a ventilator, a pacemaker and who knows what else will walk out of that hospital. Shayna is going to become a big sister. She will be happiest when her ballet shoes are on. She is smart, she is funny and she will enjoy life as a first grader. She says she wants to be a ballerina and a heart doctor when she grows up. And you know what? She probably will.


I know that you are sitting in the ICU right now wondering if the sounds of the beeping and the monitors will ever go away. They won’t, but they won’t be with you all of the time like you fear. You will hear them every time Shayna steps on stage to dance in the Nutcracker. You will hear them every time your eyes mist over when you listen to your friends and family sing Happy Birthday to her. You will hear them during every milestone, every doctor’s appointment and sometimes for no rhyme or reason at all.


But it will be OK.


The memory of what you are going through in November 2007 will make you grateful. You are grateful to the thousands of people whose generous donations made The Heart Center what it was in 2007. And you will work tirelessly to make The Heart Center even better every year.


Team Shayna will raise money so the next 15-month-old girl that is spending time in the cardiac ICU after open heart surgery can look forward to a life of family, birthday parties and ballet.


With so much love,


February 2014 Dawn


“We are thrilled to call Dawn and Team Shayna part of our family here in The Heart Center,” says Mellissa Myers, RN, MSN, FNP-C, advance practice nurse in Cardiothoracic Surgery at Children’s.


Visit our blog to read more about how Team Shayna’s donations have benefited The Heart Center.