Oak Creek Woman Starts Nonprofit For Critical Congenital Heart Defects

When Callie Chiroff was 20 weeks pregnant, she discovered that her unborn son had a serious congenital heart defect that would require open heart surgery after he was born.

The defect has been called abnormal total pulmonary venous return (TAPVR), which means that oxygen-rich blood does not return from the lungs to the left atrium.

Later, Chiroff learned that this wouldn’t be the only challenge her baby would face. She was also diagnosed with pulmonary valve stenosis, multiple ventricular septal malformations and other genetic abnormalities.

Theo Schlicht was born at 32 weeks and weighed 3 pounds 3 ounces.

Within 12 hours of his birth he had to undergo open heart surgery.

“We were given a 50/50 shot that he would survive,” Chiroff said. “He did.”

But after spending six months with “a lot of ups and downs” in hospital, Theo passed away in March 2018.

Chiroff described Theo as an “old soul” who was wise, always calm, and rarely cried.

“I just felt like he came here for a reason and he knew his time here was not long,” she said. “He made a mom out of me and that’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Inspired by her son, Oak Creek resident Chiroff founded the nonprofit Project Bubaloo to raise awareness of pediatric congenital heart disease and fund research.

“I wanted to do what I could to honor Theo’s life and bring a voice to congenital heart disease that I felt was lacking in the community,” said Chiroff.

And now Chiroff, who is a professor of nursing at Marquette University, is going back to school herself to get certified to care for children.

“My experience with Theo made me realize that I wanted to do more for the pediatric population,” she said.

Bubaloo project

Bubaloo was Theo’s nickname, so that’s what Chiroff named the organization she created in his honor.

“It just fit her and I thought it was cute,” she laughed.

The Bubaloo project aims to “be the voice of congenital heart disease” and to advance “the quality of care for those affected,” she said.

The group achieves these goals by sharing the stories of people affected by the disease on their social media platforms and through fundraising events.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect. In the United States, approximately 7,200 babies are born each year with a critical congenital heart defect.

“I don’t want another parent sitting in my place,” Chiroff said. “I will keep fighting until this happens.”

Fund raising

The Bubaloo Project is made up of Chiroff, two other family board members, over 10 volunteers who help organize the events, and about 50 additional volunteers who help at the events..

Last winter, the group hosted a fundraiser called Hops for Hearts at Mitchell Park Domes, which raised $ 40,000 for research grants.

Last summer, Project Bubaloo hosted the Heart and Sole 5K Run / Walk at Miller Park to raise funds for Conquer CHD.

Conquering CHD works with patients, families, providers and partner organizations to improve quality and outcomes through education, support, research and awareness of CHDs, according to his website.

“It’s because we move forward and it’s through progress that we see these children living longer and healthier lives,” said Chiroff. “So I want to keep seeing this.”

About 1,200 people participated in last year’s 5K and nearly $ 100,000 was raised, she said.

“I love the idea that a lot of people are coming together to make a difference,” she said.

This year, 5K becomes virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic. It will be held from August 15 to 16.

So far 1,100 people have registered across the United States and someone from as far away as England.

To register for 5K, visit bit.ly/heartsolerun. Registration costs $ 25 for adults and $ 10 for children 12 and under. Donations can also be made online at projectbubaloo.org.

“I’m very happy with what we’ve done so far and how quickly people have adapted to the fact that we can’t have an in-person event here in Milwaukee,” said Chiroff.

“I want to do more”

After graduating from Franklin High School in 2004, Chiroff attended the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for his Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

She then obtained her Masters and Doctorate in Nursing Science from Marquette University. Now she is entering her fifth year of full-time work as a professor at the College of Nursing in Marquette.

She teaches pathophysiology to undergraduate students and works with student nurse practitioners on adult primary care as she is also a primary care nurse practitioner.

Chiroff herself is back at school in Marquette to get a certification to be able to care for the children. She said she’s even in class with some of her own students.

She hopes to someday work at Children’s Wisconsin in Wauwatosa, where Theo has been taken care of and has spent his entire life.

“Even though I had him (Theo) for a very short time – not long enough – he had an impact,” she said. “I think he made an impact on everyone around him who knows his story.

I’m just thankful that he was able to have a voice even though he couldn’t speak. He’s made more of a difference than most people in their lifetime. ”

Contact Hannah Kirby at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @HannahHopeKirby.

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