Brynleigh Steimel was born with half a heart.
“Not long after she was born she started turning blue,” said her mother, Rachel Goebel.
Brynleigh was born with a heart defect that prevented the left side of her heart from forming. For months they went to doctor after doctor in and near their hometown of McPherson, Kansas. She went through multiple surgeries in the first months of her life, to no avail.
“It was an emotional roller coaster,” Goebel said. “Every day was full of ups and downs.”
Doctors determined Brynleigh had lost 40 percent of her heart function. She was born with only 60 percent to begin with. In August of last year a specialist told Goebel the only option for survival was a heart transplant. She was flown to Children’s Hospital Colorado and put on a waiting list for a new heart.
Goebel moved to Colorado as they waited more than five months for Brynleigh’s heart. That’s when she grew close with the doctors and staff at Children’s Hospital.
“They become family,” Goebel said. “They are with you in your time of need when there is nowhere else to turn.”
On Jan. 14, they finally found a heart for Brynleigh. Today she’s made a full recovery.
“It’s an experience I would never wish upon anyone, but you become a much stronger person having gone through it,” Goebel said.
And last Saturday, Brynleigh and her mom, along with thousands of others affected by Children’s Hospital Colorado, made a trip to Copper Mountain.
It marked the 25th anniversary of Courage Classic. For a quarter-century the bicycle ride has raised funds and awareness to benefit patients and families in every specialty area at Children’s Hospital.
Goebel held Brynleigh with her head resting on her shoulder. Suddenly a dull ringing of cowbells cracks above the sounds of the crowd. The bells are celebrating the members of the Cardiac Climbers team crossing the finish line. The team is composed of some of the very doctors and staff who treated Brynleigh during her extended stay at Children’s Hospital.
More than 2,000 cyclists that took part in this year’s Courage Classic. Everyone on the teams and in the crowds are directly affected by the hospital and its work with children. And almost everyone has an amazing story of struggle, survival and loss.
Not long after being born, Noah Devolve received the near equivalent of a death sentence.
“My parents have told me the story a bunch of times,” said Noah, now 13.
Noah was also born with a debilitating heart defect.
“They gave me a 10 to 20 percent of survival,” Noah said. “But they (Children’s Hospital) made me 100 percent better.”
Even if he survived, Noah was expected to have some type of brain damage. But like many of the other success stories, it seemed he survived for a reason, for he’s made the most of the years he’s been given.
He’s earned a second-degree black belt in karate, he’s already skipped ahead two grades in mathematics and he’s such a talented musical composer that in September he’s slated to open for the band Bare Naked Ladies in Denver. He was also riding last weekend in the Courage Classic. Years after receiving lifesaving help from the hospital, his family, like so many others, continues to give back.
“This is my eighth year riding,” said his mom, Melissa Devolve. “After going through what we went through with Noah I felt compelled to action. It’s just one way for me to help.”
The Courage Classic riders form teams. Each rider does all they can to raise funds. They then take part in a three-day ride that culminated last Monday with most riders completing 157 miles.
Last year the event raised $2.6 million. In its 25-year history, it has raised approximately $32 million. The goal this year was set at $2.8 million. It’s got another $300,000 to go, but the Courage Classic is still accepting donations through the end of the month.
To learn more or contribute go to www.couragetours.com.