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Daughter gives them a cause
Parents work to raise awareness of congenital heart defects.
By Beth N. Gray, Times Correspondent
Published February 25, 2008
Darin and Amy Merkle play with their nearly 2-year-old daughter, Emily, who was born with a congenital heart defect that wasn't found till she was 1.
[Lance Aram Rothstein | Times]
SPRING HILL - Emily Merkle was born 22 months ago to Amy and Darin Merkle with a large hole in the upper two chambers of her heart, plus a faulty mitral valve.
It's one of 35 conditions classified as congenital heart defects. "Little is know about the cause of any of them," notes a Web site on the subject.
Emily's situation went undetected until the child was a year old, her mother said. The youngster immediately underwent open heart surgery at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.
"She's doing wonderful," Amy Merkle, 25, said last week.
The Merkles didn't know much about congenital heart defects until they had to deal with one firsthand. Now they are on a crusade to help raise awareness and spread information about the disorder to others.
According to the Web site of Mended Little Hearts of St. Petersburg, mlhofstpete.org, one of every 85 babies in the United States is afflicted. That's 3,600 per year. Nearly twice as many children under the age of 1 die of congenital heart defects than from cancer.
The Merkles were sharing their experience recently with Robert Ford, owner of the Beef O'Brady's on Forest Oaks Boulevard, when Ford told them of the restaurant's Community Night, the last Wednesday of every month, when he donates 10 percent of all meal proceeds to a charity if a diner mentions the charity.
Plans were made for a fundraiser organized by the Merkles that will take place Wednesday. Proceeds will benefit congenital heart defect research and help pay for care packages for families who are dealing with affected children at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg.
"Beef O'Brady's is a large step," Amy Merkle said of the couple's campaign.
Amy Merkle, a part-time surgical technician at Spring Hill Regional Hospital, is also involved with Mended Little Hearts, an American Heart Association program, at All Children's. The program raises money for congenital heart defect research and meets monthly with parents of young children who are coping with the disorder.
Little Hearts also provides care packages to families who have a child in the hospital, program coordinator Jamie Masengale said. Packs include hygiene items, toiletries, notebooks, coloring books and puzzles for the entire family.
Darin Merkle, 31, is his wife's biggest cheerleader. He owns and operates Genesis Landscape Services Inc. and, when home in time, tucks Emily into bed.
As for Emily's treatment, she must see a pediatric cardiologist every six months. Medications in the future are a possibility. As her body and heart grow, she may require additional surgery when she reaches her teenage years, her mother said.
In the meantime, they hope people will turn out for Wednesday's Community Night.
The Community Night to raise money for congenital heart defect research and affected families will begin at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Beef O'Brady's at 7285 Forest Oaks Blvd., Spring Hill. Ten percent of meal proceeds go to the cause when a diner mentions the charity. For information, contact Amy Merkle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.