Q&A with Dallas Heart Mom and Fundraiser Dawn Strauss

Heart Mom Interview


By Whitney Reed

Whitney became a heart mom in 2015, when her daughter was born with Pulmonary Atresia with VSD. Her daughter has had three open-heart surgeries — one was planned and two were emergencies. Reed lives in Carrollton, Texas, a large suburb outside of Dallas, and is a member of Mended Little Hearts of Dallas.

As a relatively new heart mom (since 2015), I have only met a few heart moms in real life. I consider it a blessing that I have been able to sit down and chat with two of them in person. What a gift to be able to pick their brains, ask them questions, and just connect with them.

Who else completely understands the CHD lingo, the combination of fierce love and paralyzing anxiety that accompanies your days — and those never-ending surgery days?

I had the opportunity to talk to Dawn Strauss recently, someone whom I’ve heard about, as she, a “regular mom,” has created an amazing fundraising opportunity that directly improves the lives of heart kiddos around the world. Though her daughter, Shayna, has several congenital heart defects, Dawn says she’s a “regular person” who became a heart mom and decided to try to make a small difference. Below is a recap of our conversation:

Whitney: What comes to mind when someone says the words “congenital heart defect”?

Dawn: I used to think of sadness and sickness…of a baby or a child with a bleak future, or maybe even no future at all. While I can’t get rid of those past associations, today I have to add warrior, bravery, and fierce to the list.

Whitney: Briefly describe your daughter’s CHD journey.

Dawn: Shayna’s congenital heart defects were not discovered until she was 15 months old and in congestive heart failure. It was upon moving to a new pediatrician that a heart murmur was picked up. A week later, a cardiologist diagnosed her with severe mitral valve regurgitation. During her open-heart surgery, the surgeon discovered extensive damage to the top of her left coronary. A cardiac catheterization some months later showed that Shayna also has left coronary artery atresia.

Whitney: What would you tell a mom just starting down the path of the CHD journey?

Dawn: In some ways, I hate to give advice to moms just starting down this journey. Shayna’s path in life has been nothing short of a miracle. So I want to say, have hope. Believe in your baby. That determination and strength that got them through their tests, their procedures, their surgeries, their constant doctors’ appointments, will be the same strength that will let them grow into these amazing children.

Know that statistics are just that, and your child can be better than a statistic. Never forget that your CHD warrior is a hero. Be grateful for the angels that will be put in your path. That nurse, that doctor, that friend that brings you dinner on a dark day, are all gifts.

Whitney: What do you wish most for your daughter?

Dawn: Shayna has this amazing ability to defy the odds. Every obstacle that is thrown her way is just a distraction to getting what she wants. I want her to always have that will to be the best version of herself and to always believe that she is capable of anything and everything.

Whitney: How has your own life changed since your daughter’s diagnosis?

Dawn: My career path has changed. I started fundraising for the Heart Center at Children’s Health in Dallas some years back. I did that through the Red Balloon Run & Ride, a 5k run/walk and bike race in Plano, Texas. I fell in love with the event. So when an opportunity arose to become the Fundraising Director for the Red Balloon Run & Ride, I grabbed it. I never would have thought that I would be working in the non-profit world, but now I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Whitney: What was the moment you decided to do something for CHD research and how it came together over the years into a successful annual fundraiser?

Dawn: When Shayna was diagnosed with her second CHD, I spent about a year feeling so sad.

One day, about a year after her diagnosis, I was on the Children’s Medical Center website looking for the number of one of her doctors. I saw an ad for this 5k run and bike event, the Red Balloon Run & Ride. The ad said that if I created a fundraising team for the event, as the team captain, I could designate my fundraising dollars to any area of the hospital that I wanted.

I decided to create Team Shayna to do some fundraising for the Heart Center as a way to say thank you and as a way to maybe stop feeling so sad. Maybe I could help someone else who was in my shoes. I thought that maybe I could raise $1,000 and move on.

$67,000 and some years later, Team Shayna has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

I have spoken all over sharing Shayna’s story. This year, I decided to merge my two passions into one. I have always been a passionate supporter of the State of Israel and the Heart Center at Children’s Dallas.

This year, with the help of the Heart Center, I am creating Team Shayna’s Dallas/Jerusalem Academic Exchange. I am fundraising to help create an exchange program for pediatric cardiologists at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and the Heart Center at Children’s Health in Dallas.

Whitney: What is your hope for the future of your fundraising endeavors?

Dawn: My goal is to lay the foundation for a long-term partnership between these two programs. And the bonus is that I believe that thousands and thousands of children with congenital heart defects around the world will benefit from this collaboration. The details of the program are still being worked out, but I strongly believe in all of the good that can come from such a partnership.

Whitney Heart Mom

Whitney: What can we do to learn more about your program?

Dawn: To read more about us, please go to www.redballoonevent.org/goto/teamshayna2018.

Read more blog posts from Whitney on the Collin County Moms Blog and on The Mighty.


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