Bears Helping Hearts provides heartwarming service opportunity for nursing students

Bears Helping Hearts conducts a toy drive in the Louise Herrington School of Nursing. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kathryn Osteen.

By Mariah Bennett | Staff Writer

Bears Helping Hearts (BHH), a student organization at the Louise Herrington School of Nursing, is open to any nursing students interested in learning about congenital heart disease and defects.

The recently chartered organization, now in its second year, is also a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, according to NICU nurse Laura Zebreski — BHH adviser and clinical instructor.

BHH is partnered with the Children’s Heart Foundation, which has the mission of advancing the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of congenital heart defects by funding the most promising research, according to Dr. Kathryn Osteen — BHH adviser, clinical associate professor and Children’s Heart Foundation executive council member.

Osteen said congenital heart defects are present at birth and can affect the structure of a baby’s heart as well as how the blood flows through the heart to the rest of the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the United States, about one in four babies born with a heart defect has a critical congenital heart defect.

“[Congenital heart defects] can vary from mild, such as just a small hole in the heart, to severe, where they’re missing parts of the heart or poorly formed parts of the heart,” Osteen said. “It’s the most common birth defect.”

Zebreski said she has dealt with sick babies her whole career, a lot of whom have congenital heart disease.

“I’ve watched their parents and their families sort of deal with that as they try to manage a child that’s going to have significant, lifelong health issues and health concerns and lots of surgeries and lots of dollars spent on these kinds of things,” Zebreski said. “It’s just been something that I’ve kind of professionally dealt with throughout my career.”

Osteen said while survival rates are increasing, there are still challenges for survivors, and the Children’s Heart Foundation is the only organization in the nation that is funding research for congenital heart disease.

“There’s challenges like developmental delays, growth delays, stroke, cardiac arrest,” Osteen said. “We’ve got heart failure. We’ve got all these things that we need research for. It’s still underfunded. Very, very little research money is given to it.”

In BHH, members have monthly meetings, learn about research and participate in events like the Heart Walk. They also hear from guest speakers, including nurses who are active in congenital heart units, adults with congenital heart disease, mothers who have a child with congenital heart disease and a mother who has lost a child to congenital heart disease, Osteen said.

“I love that aspect that the students get to hear from actual nurses and families and researchers that are in the fields,” Osteen said. “So they get to think beyond themselves while they’re in school.”

Zebreski said BHH is good for students at the School of Nursing who are seeking volunteer service opportunities that they could include as experience for their resumes and in their life overall.

“It’s a good, tight place for community and also networking for their future as they kind of get ready to become professional nurses in the Dallas area potentially or even beyond,” Zebreski said.

Until Dec. 6, BHH and the Children’s Heart Foundation are hosting a toy drive for Medical City Children’s Hospital, specifically for children in congenital heart units. An Amazon wishlist can be found here.