Fixing broken hearts one support group at a time

March is Women’s History Month, and all month long, KX News will be celebrating local women who are improving their community, one day, and one idea at a time.
Tonight we celebrate one local woman who has been able to give countless families the support they need during some of the hardest moments of their lives.

Nearly 40,000 new-borns a year are affected by congenital heart defects. It basically means that your child is born with a broken heart.

There are numerous types of congenital defects, and many of them require open heart surgeries just weeks or in some cases hours after being born.

Kristi Lafrenz knows first hand not just how hard it is to live with a Congenital Heart Disease, but the struggles an entire family goes through.

This is why Lafrenz started Kristi’s Heart Hugs, and reporter Aaron Fields sat down with Lafrenz and some of the families who she’s been able to help.

 “I was born with a congenital heart defect and I had my first surgery when I was 1 week old,” says Lafrenz. 
Lafrenz told me she has had 3 surgeries since then.
“After my last surgery I had that down in Mayo and I came back to Bismarck and I found out that there was little to no support for kids or families with heart defects and so I started my own group,” says Lafrenz.
She says Kristi’s Heart Hugs originally started with sending toy giraffes to families and kids who were going through similar situations like herself. Lafrenz sent them to families as far as South Africa.
However, she quickly realized she could be more help to the families that were closer to home.
“I started a Facebook page which revolved into a support group that we hold once a month and just providing that support and letting them know that you’re not alone in this,” Lafrenz says. “I have been through this. I understand what your child is going through and can answer questions that they may have.”
Kristi’s Heart Hugs Facebook page now has over 500 members. Lafrenz told me she has been able to help over 100 families whether that be with support, finances, or just having a shoulder to cry on. I sat down with some of the families she has been able to help.
CHD Mother, Jodie Stave, “When she was born she was actually flown to Mayo 6 hours after birth and she came right to the hospital just to give us a hug and say everything is going to be ok, and with her upcoming surgery she is going to be helping us.”
Casandra Nicodemus who also has a baby with CHD says, “I think having Kristi with Kristi Heart Hugs by my side throughout this has been a big weight lifted off my shoulders. I think it would be a lot worse if I didn’t know her.”
Do you think you could have gone through this whole experience without Kristi?
“No…just her knowledge and the support group we have and all the parents it’s amazing,” says Stave.
Lafrenz knows how hard it is to ask for help sometimes–but wants people to know its ok too.
“So you just got to kind of step out of yourself and ask for help because you won’t regret it. You will not regret that and plus hearing stories of somebody else that’s gone through it helps comfort you and help you know your child is going to be ok,” Lafrenz told me.
She says there’s nothing more meaningful to her than these parents knowing she is there for them.

“The reward to me–to be able to pay it forward for the help we received when I was a child or my mom would have received. There is nothing better than getting that call or text from a heart mom saying– hey you know Isabella did great– surgery went great and just thanks for supporting me.”

Kristi’s Heart Hugs has a big fundraiser every year that goes directly to helping North Dakota families with their finances.

If you don’t want to wait for the next fundraiser or want to find out when the next support group is click here

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