Cyclists ride for heart research at UIHC

BY KATIE HEINE | JUNE 29, 2011 7:20 AM

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Kierstin Henricks talks fast. She rattles on about her love for camp, dance, and music.

And her fast-paced chatter is fitting for her racing heart.

The 12-year-old was diagnosed with a singular ventricle heart defect as a newborn, meaning she has only one functional pumping chamber. Or “a heart that beats fast,” as she puts it.

Henricks was one of more than 30 parents, children, and physicians who gathered at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Tuesday evening as part of a fundraiser sponsored by Heart Friends — a support group for families of children with congenital heart defects.

The group gathered to meet with two cyclists and crew members who are in the midst of a cross-country bike ride to raise money for the Children’s Heart Foundation.

In just 46 days, two men will stop in 43 cities and log more than 3,800 miles in hopes of raising their $75,000 goal for the Children’s Heart Foundation — an organization dedicated to funding research for congenital heart defects.

Nels Matson and Nick Busta began their nationwide journey in San Francisco, and the ride will wrap up in New York City on July 16.

Matson, a 28-year-old Iowa native, was born with a heart defect, and after exploring his own medical background, said he was shocked by the statistics related to congenital heart defects.

“I wanted to do something about it, so I decided to bike across the country and stop in the nooks and crannies of the U.S., and tell people about our mission,” he said.

Matson established and completed the first heart ride by himself in last year, but he gained some company for this year’s ride.

And though his companion, Busta, does not have a heart defect, he said he is riding in honor of his wife, Jeni, who has struggled with various heart conditions since birth.

After biking 127 miles from Des Moines to Iowa City, Matson and Busta shared their stories, along with crew members and Children’s Heart Foundation members and offered advice to parents and children in similar situations.

“Your life changes in a matter of seconds,” said Stefenie Jacks, a 31-year-old mother of two from Burlington.

Jacks’ younger son, Logan, was diagnosed with five very complex heart defects when he was 2 weeks old. Since his birth, Jacks said, Logan has undergone three heart surgeries, and he is now a 4-year-old who will head to preschool in the fall.

Jacks said she and her family have used the support group to communicate with other parents who have children with heart defects.

“Getting to know other families and talking to people keeps you motivated to keep pushing forward,” she said.

Though congenital heart defects are “forever,” Matson said, he said he is fortunate to participate in endurance sports — like biking across the country.

And while he is an inspiration for many children and teenagers with heart defects, he said, he undergoes regular checkups to ensure he is healthy to be as active as he is.

“The thing is, there is no cure,” he said.

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