Shannan Pearsall and husband Nick with sons, Aidan, 14, in front,...

Shannan Pearsall and husband Nick with sons, Aidan, 14, in front, and Nolan, 12, at their Lynbrook home. Pearsall organizes a toy drive for NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at Columbia University, where Aidan, who was born with a heart defect, underwent treatment. Credit: Linda Rosier

Fourteen years ago, Shannan Pearsall received heart-wrenching news that her unborn baby had a rare condition affecting his heart's function. Her son is now a healthy teenager, but her family's experience spurred Pearsall to enrich the lives of families whose children are born with heart defects. 

Pearsall, 44, of Lynbrook, is the coordinator for the Long Island Mended Little Hearts group, a national nonprofit formed in 2004, which provides solace and educational resources to parents of children with heart defects. Part of that outreach includes an annual toy drive, which Pearsall donates to New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at Columbia University, where her son, Aidan, now 14, was treated. Congenital heart defects are the top birth defect in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Hospital staff hand out toys to their pediatric cardiology patients throughout the year, brightening the child’s day and providing their parents with a way to contact Mended Little Hearts, Pearsall said. Each December, Pearsall and volunteers collect between 2,500 and 4,000 unwrapped toys and items from community donors. 

“Part of what we try to do for Mended Little Hearts is try to provide support to families going through similar situations,” Pearsall said. “It’s that lifeline if somebody needs it.”

After Pearsall’s 20-week anatomy scan, when parents discover the sex of their baby, Pearsall learned the gut-wrenching news that Aidan had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition that caused his heart to not fully develop and only half his heart to function. He underwent three open heart surgeries at the children's hospital as an infant and toddler: his first was just a few days after his birth, followed by a second surgery when he was seven months old and his final surgery was just before his third birthday. 

Pearsall, who joined the group in 2011, said Mended Little Hearts connected her with other local parents who intimately understood the struggles her family faced. The organization provides resources for any level of heart condition, including for parents whose children have died. 

A hospital spokesperson did not respond to Newsday inquiries about the donations.

Kim Andrejkovics, 35, of Medford, was one of the parents who needed support. Her son, Jacob, was born in February 2020 with four complex heart defects that will require at least three open heart surgeries. So far, the 2-year-old has had two surgeries with a third likely coming next year. 

While at one of her son’s appointments, Andrejkovics said a nurse brought in a toy for Jacob and explained its connection to the Long Island nonprofit. 

“It was cool because it wasn’t even around Christmastime, so it was a nice little surprise,” she said. “That was actually the first I had heard of Mended Little Hearts.” 

Andrejkovics, a social worker, contacted the organization, because she said she understood the importance of community encouragement, especially as the world headed into a pandemic that required her family to be extremely cautious to protect Jacob’s health. 

“Finding that support was my mission,” she said. “It’s a relief to know I can call Shannan because she gets it … It’s hard sometimes relating to other moms with young kids who maybe don’t have this similar situation.”

Fourteen years ago, Shannan Pearsall received heart-wrenching news that her unborn baby had a rare condition affecting his heart's function. Her son is now a healthy teenager, but her family's experience spurred Pearsall to enrich the lives of families whose children are born with heart defects. 

Pearsall, 44, of Lynbrook, is the coordinator for the Long Island Mended Little Hearts group, a national nonprofit formed in 2004, which provides solace and educational resources to parents of children with heart defects. Part of that outreach includes an annual toy drive, which Pearsall donates to New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at Columbia University, where her son, Aidan, now 14, was treated. Congenital heart defects are the top birth defect in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Hospital staff hand out toys to their pediatric cardiology patients throughout the year, brightening the child’s day and providing their parents with a way to contact Mended Little Hearts, Pearsall said. Each December, Pearsall and volunteers collect between 2,500 and 4,000 unwrapped toys and items from community donors. 

“Part of what we try to do for Mended Little Hearts is try to provide support to families going through similar situations,” Pearsall said. “It’s that lifeline if somebody needs it.”

After Pearsall’s 20-week anatomy scan, when parents discover the sex of their baby, Pearsall learned the gut-wrenching news that Aidan had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a condition that caused his heart to not fully develop and only half his heart to function. He underwent three open heart surgeries at the children's hospital as an infant and toddler: his first was just a few days after his birth, followed by a second surgery when he was seven months old and his final surgery was just before his third birthday. 

Pearsall, who joined the group in 2011, said Mended Little Hearts connected her with other local parents who intimately understood the struggles her family faced. The organization provides resources for any level of heart condition, including for parents whose children have died. 

A hospital spokesperson did not respond to Newsday inquiries about the donations.

Shannan and Nick Pearsall with their sons, Aidan, 14, in...

Shannan and Nick Pearsall with their sons, Aidan, 14, in front, and Nolan,12, at their home in Lynbrook, with some of the toys they collected for the Mended Little Hearts of Long Island toy drive, Dec. 8, 2022. Aidan had 3 open heart surgeries before he was 3. Credit: Linda Rosier

Kim Andrejkovics, 35, of Medford, was one of the parents who needed support. Her son, Jacob, was born in February 2020 with four complex heart defects that will require at least three open heart surgeries. So far, the 2-year-old has had two surgeries with a third likely coming next year. 

While at one of her son’s appointments, Andrejkovics said a nurse brought in a toy for Jacob and explained its connection to the Long Island nonprofit. 

“It was cool because it wasn’t even around Christmastime, so it was a nice little surprise,” she said. “That was actually the first I had heard of Mended Little Hearts.” 

Andrejkovics, a social worker, contacted the organization, because she said she understood the importance of community encouragement, especially as the world headed into a pandemic that required her family to be extremely cautious to protect Jacob’s health. 

“Finding that support was my mission,” she said. “It’s a relief to know I can call Shannan because she gets it … It’s hard sometimes relating to other moms with young kids who maybe don’t have this similar situation.”

TOY DONATION

Shannan Pearsall of the Long Island Mended Little Hearts group is collecting new toys for pediatric cardiology patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at Columbia University in Manhattan until Dec. 17. She asks that donors consider buying items for older kids in the 12-18 year age range, so they don’t feel overlooked. To donate, contact MLHLI.Events@gmail.com.

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