Meet the girl giving "heart hugs" around the world
Photo credit: The Duncannon Record
We all face struggles sometimes, but those challenges can inspire us to come up with creative solutions—perhaps even ones that can help others, too. That’s exactly what happened for Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer, a 12-year-old from Duncannon, Pennsylvania.
Lorelei was born without a left ventricle in her heart and has gone through a number of medical procedures. When she was just five years old, Lorelei's lung collapsed and she was given a compression heart pillow to aid her recovery from open heart surgery...but the pillow was too big for her.
So Lorelei decided to create a kid-sized compression heart pillow, not just for herself, but for others in the same situation. From there, Lorelei started Heart Hugs, an organization that distributes over 2,500 of the pillows to kids all over the world each year.
Plus, the organization has raised over $40,000 to supply families staying in the hospital for extended periods of time with hygiene supplies and other necessities. Lorelei has even been recognized nationally for her compassionate work; she was selected as one of the Top Ten Youth Volunteers of 2017 through the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a program that recognizes kids and teens for outstanding community service.
We connected with Lorelei to find out more about Heart Hugs, what she’s learned along the way and how she’d help a girl going through a tough time.
Girls’ Life: Tell us about your organization, Heart Hugs.
Lorelei McIntyre-Brewer: I started Heart Hugs when I was 5 years old after having my third open heart surgery and dealing with a lot of complications. I got the idea to make pediatric compression heart pillows so that kids would have the proper-sized pillow to help them recover faster. Now Heart Hugs is a global organization and involved in a lot of different areas. I still coordinate and distribute the compression heart pillows to children's hospitals all over the world, as well as sending them out to kids who go to hospitals that don't have a program with us yet.
I also advocate at the local, state and national level for more research for congenital heart defects. It is still incredibly underfunded compared to other childhood illnesses like cancer and prematurity, and deserves more attention since statistics tell us that every one out of 120 babies will be born with a congenital heart defect.
GL: What have you learned from starting and running Heart Hugs?
LMB: Heart Hugs has taught me that I am not the only person in the world facing challenges. It helps me cope with having a medical problem that will never go away. But Heart Hugs has also taught me a lot of skills that will help in the real world. I've learned to sew, sterilize, track, and deliver compression heart pillows. I have learned about marketing, advertising, advocating, public speaking, accounting, preparing research and writing. There are so many things that I get to practice running an organization.
GL: What advice would you give to a girl going through a challenging time in her life?
LMB: I'm not sure I would give a girl advice if she's going through a challenging time. I think I would spend more time listening to her. One of the things that is hard for me is that people always want to give me advice about missing half of my heart and my other medical issues. Everybody always has advice, but there aren't that many people willing to just listen. I'd want her to know that someone cares and will help her get through her challenges.
GL: How can others get involved with or help Heart Hugs?
LMB: It's easy to get involved with Heart Hugs! You can find us on Facebook and learn about the projects we are working on at the moment. If you see something that interests you like fundraising for our program in Viet Nam, sewing pillows for kids in hospitals, putting together hygiene kits or something else, send us a message and we'll get right back to you! Our Facebook page is www.facebook.com/CHDHeartHugs.
If you are a devoted volunteer, consider applying for the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards! CLICK HERE for more information.