Congenital heart defects are rare; only about 1 percent of babies in the United States are born with them. Imagine their surprise, then, when two young families with afflicted babies met through a Pennsylvania electric cooperative.
The Leidy and Gibson families, who live within an hour of each other in central Pennsylvania, met for the first time when they were the guests of honor at the 2017 Valley Rural Electric Golf Outing. Each family received about $16,000.
“It was amazing to be at a fundraiser held for our family and meet another ‘heart baby’ family,” said Kerri Leidy, whose 16-month-old son, Dirk, was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, which leaves part of the organ underdeveloped.
“It’s a wonderful event. I never expected anything like this. … Hopefully, we can keep in touch and give each other support,” said Tisa Miller, mother of 11-month-old Kendra Gibson, who has Tetralogy of Fallot, a rare combination of four related heart defects.
That spirit has kept Valley REC employee Travis Kuhstos involved in the golf tournament since 2012, when 15 teams played in the office-only event.
Today, it’s a massive undertaking that shuts down the main office in Huntingdon and three district offices for one day so that all workers can play or volunteer. In all, 48 teams participated.
The tournament and related fundraisers have raised more than $126,000 for local residents battling serious illnesses and injuries.
“It’s a feeling of doing something that’s good and right, and that’s the co-op mantra,” said Kuhstos, an energy specialist and chairman of the co-op’s health and wellness committee, which created the tournament. “I feel very fortunate to be part of this golf event. It’s something the whole co-op supports.”
Employees are involved in all aspects. They suggest families in need and escort them on the day of the tournament, solicit snacks, drinks and prizes for golfers, and run the registration booth.
“Our annual golf outing brings together many golfers and sponsors from across central Pennsylvania and beyond for a good cause,” said Rich Bauer, the co-op’s president and CEO. “We’re grateful for all the support this event receives from our vendors, employees and the community.”
The donations will help the Leidys resume some normalcy in their hectic lives. After “living at the hospital” to care for Dirk, the couple used the donations to catch up on bills, buy another car and start a college fund for their young son.
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.