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Hutton's Hearts

Hutton’s Hearts are colorful, textured hearts painted on canvas. But these hearts aren’t simply paintings. These hearts represent real ones, lives touched by heart complications in our region, and what people are trying to do about it. 

Last fall, Julie Sterchi, an artist who owns her own business, the Rustic Cradle, was checking Facebook and stumbled across a post she couldn’t stop thinking about. The post was from an acquaintance – Jill Johnson. Jill had posted the link to her Caringbridge website regarding her daughter.  Five-year-old Hutton was born with half of a heart, and after multiple surgeries attempting to repair it, Hutton and her family had to wait for a transplant. In July 2011 when Hutton was three, doctors at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found a match. The surgery went well, but a few months later, she’d become ill. “My heart just wanted to do something,” Julie said. “I just wanted to do something small in honor of Hutton.”  

Jill and Julie had grown up going to the same schools, Cedar Bluff Middle and Bearden High School, but had never been close friends. “I approached Jill and said I wanted to do something for Hutton,” Julie said. Her idea was simple; she wanted to do what she did best – paint. “I just wanted to sell hearts for Hutton,” Julie explained.  Jill’s idea for Julie to help was bigger than just raising money to honor her little girl. She wanted to touch others. “While we’d been waiting on Hutton’s heart, there was a little girl who was also waiting on a heart,” Jill said. The little girl had gone into Sudden Cardiac Arrest and an AED (automated external defibrillator) hadn’t been available. “Her heart was even more damaged because of that,” she said. “I knew it was important to get them into the schools.”  

Sudden cardiac arrest is the nation’s number one killer, claiming 450,000 annually. Every day, 16 kids die from sudden cardiac arrest, making it the number one killer in schools as well. However, when an AED is placed on a victim within three-five minutes of the heart stopping, chances of survival are as high as 74 percent. 

Surprisingly, some schools still do not have AEDs installed and available. So Jill contacted Marianne Jennings, Project ADAM Tennessee Coordinator, to see if they could partner with her. Project ADAM promotes the importance of installing AEDs in schools. The program provides schools with AEDs and training for staff on how to use them in the event of sudden cardiac arrest. The program started in 1999, and began in Knoxville in June 2011, focusing on Knox County Schools. East Tennessee Children’s Hospital works with Knoxville Pediatric Cardiology on the local Project ADAM program, and it is the ninth affiliate of the program in the nation. To date, Project ADAM has placed 18 AEDs in East Tennessee, visited 38 schools and touched seven counties.

In December 2011, Hutton’s Hearts was born. “I thought I could at least sell 50 or 100,” Julie said. By February 2012, she had sold 200, and to date, she’s sold more than 400. The Hearts are available at the Wild Pineapple in Turkey Creek and O.P. Jenkins in downtown Knoxville and on Facebook through the Rustic Cradle’s page. “It’s just grown,” Julie said. “I’m just going to continue to paint,” and she plans to start painting ornaments for Christmas.  So far, Julie has given more than $3,000 to Project ADAM, and she’s committed to giving a total of $4,000 by the end of the year.  

In October, Julie’s efforts paid off – Hutton’s Hearts was able to fund an AED to be purchased for Cedar Bluff Middle School, and she and Jill, her old Cedar Bluff friend, were at the dedication together.  

Another life touched by Project ADAM was also at the Cedar Bluff dedication – 14-year-old Hunter Helton. Hunter, a freshman at Knoxville’s Central High School, went into sudden cardiac arrest at basketball practice on October 1.

Prior to this, he’d had no symptoms and no family history. His mother Kelly said, “(That day) he went to school just like any other kid.” But Kelly received a startling phone call at 5:45 p.m. “They said he’d had an episode on the basketball court,” she said. “He wasn’t responsive. They performed CPR and were taking him to Children’s Hospital.” Hunter’s heart had stopped while running sprints up and down the court with his team. “He veered to the left and collapsed,” Kelly paused. “Sudden cardiac arrest.” 

In the moment, quick thinking was what mattered. “You just never expect to get that phone call,” Kelly said. But she did, after senior Ryan Holland ran to the main office, retrieved the AED and applied the electrodes to shock Hunter’s heart while basketball coach Jon Higgins performed CPR on him. “Actually the office is locked every day after school, but it happened to be unlocked that day. So (Ryan) went to get it,” Kelly said. He was shocked three times with the defibrillator, and the AED reported his heart stopped 3 minutes and 49 seconds. From school, Hunter was transported to Children’s Hospital and then to Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt the following day. He had surgery on October 4 to install an implanted defibrillator. 

While the school’s AED had not been purchased by Project ADAM, Central High School had just gotten it that summer. And if they hadn’t, Hunter Helton wouldn’t be back at school now, a little more than a month later. 

Jill said Hunter’s story has touched her and her now-close friend Julie. “I can’t describe it,” she said. “When what happened to Hunter happened, Julie and I just called each other crying. To think a life can be saved if they’re in every school, if it can save one life, it’s worth it.” 

Julie said Hunter Helton has brought a lot more attention to Hutton’s Hearts as well.  She attended a craft fair at the Helton’s church, Dante Baptist Church in Powell, to raise money to install an AED there.  So far, she’s dedicated one heart to Hunter, painted in Central High School’s colors, red and black, of course.  

Marianne, Jill, Julie and Kelly hope the stories of Hutton and Hunter will touch hearts to help them spread the word.  “I just keep stressing (AEDs) need to be readily available,” Kelly said. “They need to have one available in case that happens to someone again. I’m sure there are many parents like us that didn’t even know (about sudden cardiac arrest). They need to be prepared on what to do and educated. It could happen anywhere – church, school, home.”

Click here for more information on Project ADAM Tennessee.




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