Young Patient Born to Be a Philanthropist

Jennifer Reilly, 12, has been involved in philanthropy most of her life.

At just 2 years old, Jennifer, along with her parents, Tom and Lynda, held a fundraiser for children who, like Jennifer, suffer from congenital heart disease.

“When Jennifer was born, one of the nurses noticed that when she was feeding, she was laboring and turned a little blue under her chin,” said Tom.

She was later diagnosed by Michael Snyder, M.D., Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, with Tricuspid Atresia with an atrial septal defect (ASD).

“In that instant, we were thrust into the congenital heart defect world,” said Tom.  “Fortunately, we had Dr. Snyder as her pediatric cardiologist, and he is just phenomenal.”

By the time Jennifer was 4 years old, she’d had one closed-heart surgery, 2 open-heart surgeries and 2 cardiac catheterizations, all performed by her pediatric surgeon, Jan M. Quaegebeur, M.D., Ph.D., Morris & Rose Milstein Professor of Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center.

“He is God’s hands here on earth,” said Lynda.

Now, as a healthy child, Jennifer is determined to do everything she can to advocate for and give back to children with heart disease.

“For school service hours, I wrote a letter asking people in my community to donate coloring books, crayons, and stickers to the pediatric heart disease patients in the hospital,” said Jennifer.

The response was overwhelming, and the Reilly’s barely had enough room in their van to fit everything.

In addition, last year Jennifer successfully petitioned Governor Cuomo to declare a week in February as Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Week for New York State.  Since then she has set her sights even higher, recently submitting a petition to President Barack Obama to have it declared as a national awareness week.

When it comes to philanthropy, Jennifer knows exactly why it is so close to her heart.

“I give back so that people can see the wonderful things that can happen when kids help other kids,” said Jennifer.  “I want kids facing the same thing I did to know that they can still be strong after what they’ve gone through.”


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