What would you do if an 8-year-old child told you they wanted to buy presents for every child spending Christmas in the hospital? And they would chip in their entire savings to do it?
Chloe Lesmeister was moved to ask her mother just that, after undergoing four heart surgeries by the time she was 7. Chloe realized she didn’t want other children to feel sad and scared, as her mother, Julie Lesmeister, describes.
Julie Lesmeister decided to support her daughter’s giving nature. Now they operate a nonprofit that raises money every year to buy Christmas presents for hospitalized children and their families.
Chloe, now 11, is being recognized Saturday during the Kuna Days parade as this year’s grand marshal, a designation for someone who gives a lot of their time, and of themselves, into their community.
When Chloe was asked what she most wants people to know about her charity, she stayed quiet.
Sometimes, like today, it’s a challenge for Chloe to talk, an after-effect of the heart complications.
“It’s just … her memory and her ability to follow too many directions that are too many steps,” Julie Lesmeister said. “And some things she seriously doesn’t understand.”
She turns to Chloe, rephrases the question.
“I don’t know,” Chloe said, hesitantly. “All of it.”
Despite the challenges, Julie Lesmeister has a lot of hope.
Moving to Kuna and finding new doctors in the area, Julie Lesmeister said, was one of the best things that ever happened.
“It has been such a long journey but it’s been the biggest blessing ever in my life,” Julie Lesmeister said. “I mean, yes I don’t wish that (Chloe) would be sick, but some of the things she brings to my life … I never know quite how to put it … being simpler, she just sees things differently and is just genuinely so kind.”
When Chloe was born, doctors realized two of her major heart arteries were transposed, backwards.
Chloe was immediately taken by air ambulance to another hospital, hundreds of miles away in Minneapolis. Julie Lesmeister couldn’t go with her daughter.
“All I could think of was she was going to die there all by herself,” Julie Lesmeister said, “because I didn’t understand the heart condition that she had … it was just her heart was wrong, and it’s backwards …”
At just 12 hours old, Chloe had her first open heart surgery. Her mother was able to visit five days later.
“I don’t know what I would say (to other parents), except be brave and hang in there, even when it seems like it’s, you know, at the worst,” Julie Lesmeister said. “It’s not. It can get better.”
Later came three more heart surgeries. Due to lack of oxygen, some brain damage occurred, too.
Now Chloe’s heart is checked at least once a year with an echocardiogram. Her blood pressure is monitored regularly. Some scar tissue is also being watched.
As if that’s not enough, Chloe is also on migraine medication.
“After a while, it just becomes your life,” Julie Lesmeister said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s anything more than (what) anybody else does. And you just pray that everything keeps running the way it does.”
However, it keeps getting better. Chloe’s heart doesn’t hurt. She’s getting ready to start middle school, taking swim lessons, playing games she likes on her computer and enjoys cuddling her cats.
“There’s times like right now we’re in a good spot, medically, that we have been in for a long time,” Julie Lesmeister said. “Try to get a good team of medical people behind you that won’t give up … and also find other parents to talk to.”
And when it comes to your child:
“When your child says something to you like, ‘I want to give a kid in the hospital a gift at Christmas,’ don’t just blow it off. Maybe wonder, ‘What could I do,’” Julie Lesmeister said. “Because it would have been easy for me to blow her off and say we don’t have enough money.”
Chloe and Julie Lesmeister didn’t have enough money. But the intention was good, and people stepped up to help. The group raised close to $1,700 and bought 250 toys for St. Luke’s that year.
“I went in to work the next day and I told my friends, ‘This is what Chloe wants to do,’ and they said, ‘Well, we’ll help you,’” Julie Lesmeister said. “(And) I said, ‘You will?’ They said, ‘Yes, we’ll hold a bake sale, a toy drive …’ and they did.”
CHLOE’S HEART INC.
The nonprofit, Chloe’s Heart Inc., came soon after, a bit spontaneously.
“When (Chloe) was interviewed on TV, they (asked), ‘Are you going to do it again?’ She said, ‘Of course,’” Julie Lesmeister said. “Well, what am I gonna do?”
To help keep the giving going, Julie Lesmeister started the nonprofit Chloe’s Heart Inc., “named (so) because (of) Chloe’s heart condition and her big heart.”
In its two years of existence, the nonprofit has raised about $20,000 and has donated locally to both St. Luke’s and Saint Al’s. Other hospitals near Chloe and Julie Lesmeister’s hometown have also received gifts.
The giving has expanded to include gift cards for necessities for families far away from their hospitalized child.
To raise funds, Julie Lesmeister applies for grants, holds fundraisers and got the charity affiliated with Amazon Smile, an Amazon link that donates a percentage of proceeds to affiliated charities.
Chloe’s Heart Inc. also does an annual walk event with the American Heart Association.
Julie Lesmeister said she knew nothing about forming a nonprofit and is still learning how to operate it. She continues seeking more ways of raising funds and welcomes suggestions.
“If I can do that, to help her make her dream of helping others come true, any other parents can do that too, to figure out a way,” Julie Lesmeister said.