Saline mom starts pediatric heart transplant research charity after her son got Gift of Life

A Saline woman started an organization - the only one in Michigan that raises money for pediatric heart transplant research. Unfortunately, she learned about the need because of what happened to her son.

Following her son's heart transplant, she became an advocate for pediatric heart transplant research. Now her efforts and an event this weekend could help save young lives.

"Me and my husband both work our kids were doing well in school – very social, very active – and now I am looking at saving my son’s life," said Shirley Wickman.

Wickman says her family lived a normal life until what she calls 3-2-1 day. On March 21st 2018, during gym class, her 8-year-old son's heart stopped. They were able to resuscitate Rexford and rush him to Ann Arbor's Mott Children's Hospital.

He was diagnosed with a rare form of congenital heart disease called restrictive cardiomyopathy with six months to two years to live.

"He never was unwell. He never was at the point he was that sick. He adjusted so well to his failing heart he was undetected," she said.

A stress test would soon reveal Rexford was in desperate need of a heart transplant.

"He got the call 100 days later, the day after Thanksgiving," she said. "They told us 'We have a heart for your son.'"

Her son received a successful heart transplant, but four years later he's not out of danger. Pediatric heart transplant patients are at risk of organ rejection, transplant coronary artery disease, or post-transplant lymphoma.

"A heart transplant is not a cure for end-stage heart failure, it’s a treatment," Wickman said.

With the ability and resources, Wickman started Heart for Life, an organization that raises money for pediatric heart transplant research. A potential treatment is in a clinical trial right now at Mott Children's Hospital.

"Non-invasive ways to help predict whether or not this is going to happen and if it does happen, how do we treat it other than the solution of another organ transplant," she said.

On Sunday, September 25th, Heart for Life is hosting a 5k fun run/family day at Travis Pointe Country Club in Ann Arbor.

The money raised will go toward research that will hopefully find a medication to prevent coronary artery disease in young patients, and the need for another transplant.

"He’s 7th grade, he plays catcher in baseball, he's very competitive, he's an 'A' student, and you would never know – he's great," she said. "But I need to keep him like that," Wickman said. "It’s hard, but we were lucky we were given the gift of life and it is our job to make it a Heart for Life."

The fun run starts at 10 a.m. and will be followed by food trucks, games, vendors a silent auction and a raffle. You can register or donate at