Candy and paper hearts are everywhere with Valentine’s Day coming up, which is also a reminder that February is American Heart Month.
Owen Hall is just five years old, but he has already undergone three open-heart surgeries. He was born with Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries or d-TGA. He had his first open-heart surgery when he was three weeks old, one at five months old, and his last one in July 2018. All were performed at Children’s Hospital of Alabama in Birmingham.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dextro-Transposition of the Great Arteries or d-TGA is a birth defect of the heart in which the two main arteries carrying blood out of the heart – the main pulmonary artery and the aorta – are switched in position, or “transposed.”
The CDC (CDC) estimates that about 1,250 babies are born with TGA each year in the United States. This means that every 1 in 3,300 babies born in the US is affected by this defect. All babies born with this type of heart defect require surgery and regular follow-up visits with a cardiologist. With proper treatment, most grow up to live healthy, productive lives.
While Owen was recovering from his last open heart surgery at Children's Hospital, a local non-profit, Children's Harbor, hosted a fun day for the patients. The Children's Harbor is located on The Children's Hospital campus but is separate entity.
Children’s Harbor’s mission is to serve seriously ill children and their families through unique, no-cost services at both the Family Center located at the Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children in Birmingham, and at the Lake Martin retreat facility in Alexander City. Children’s Harbor has been in service since 1989.
The Children's Harbor Family Center Activities Coordinator Darby Calhoun coordinated with UAB Head Football Coach Bill Clark to have football players come to the Harbor to meet and play with the children.
“This was the first time Owen was allowed out of his room,” said his mother Kelli Hall, who is a preschool teacher at First Baptist Kindergarten and Daycare in Pell City. “We were curious because the UAB players were at The Children’s Harbor so we went to see what was going on.”
There, they met freshman UAB football place kicker Wilson Beaverstock. Beaverstock is a two-time high school 5A First Team All State Kicker from Mobile.
“When I saw Owen, he was smiling, sitting in a wheelchair,” Beaverstock said. “He had tubes and machines all around him, but he was still smiling and happy, and playing with Legos.”
Beaverstock also has a younger brother named Owen, so the connection really hit home for him. For the UAB Blazers Homecoming game, players choose a child and have their name printed on the back of their jersey. The children and their families are invited to the game and treated with tickets, snacks, keepsakes, reserved seating at the game and their player wore the patient's last name on their jersey in honor of the child who had gone through serious treatment at Children's Hospital. After the game, Children's Harbor mailed each child the player's jersey with the children's last name on it.
Beaverstock didn’t get to spend a lot of time with Owen at the hospital or during the homecoming game, but mailed Owen a letter and made time to follow up.
“Owen's player stays in contact with Owen and his parents and has recently visited Owen and his parents [Kelli and Randy Hall],” said Owen’s grandmother Doris Munkus. “Wilson brought Owen a UAB Blazer shirt this past week when he came for dinner in Cropwell. Owen will be proud when he gets big enough to wear Wilson's number 97. Owen is now enjoying his life and runs, jumps and plays without getting out of breath.”
Beaverstock, who stays very busy with a full school and football schedule, plans to major in psychology and then transfer to medical school to be a trauma surgeon and work in the mission field. He plans to stay in contact with Owen and doing more with Children’s Harbor.
“It was the easiest thing,” Beaverstock said. “It’s not a chore, it’s a blessing. How I was raised and things that I learned growing up is to use what I have to show others that you care.”
“For 19 years old, he [Wilson] is very mature,” said Kelli Hall. “It’s been a blessing meeting him.”
For more information about Children’s Harbor, which is celebrating its 30th year, visit www.childrensharbor.com. For additional information on the UAB Blazers football program, visit www.uabsports.com.