Finding a way to healing and hope

Judy Johnson

More than anything I want this devastating personal tragedy to become an opportunity of hope and survival for parents and children who have gone through similar situations.

When doctors first told Judy Johnson that her beautiful baby girl, Christine, had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, she was stunned. She assumed there must be a surgical fix for her daughter's severely underdeveloped heart. But at the time, there wasn't.

"Mrs. Johnson, this baby is not going to survive until the end of today," a doctor gently told her.

After less than 50 hours of life, Christine took her last breath. Judy powered through the heart-wrenching grief, eventually returning to work as a high school English teacher and later giving birth to two healthy girls.

More than 40 years later, Judy spotted a newspaper article about John and Susan Herma—who had lost their own daughter to hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS)—and their fundraising challenge for the Herma Heart Institute at Children's Wisconsin. Inspired, Judy decided to donate part of her annual retirement distribution to the Herma Heart Institute in Christine's memory.

"Our situation was devastating," she said. "It has changed my life, it has humbled me, but it also has contributed to my resilience and admiration for the medical team at the Herma Heart Institute."

It was the first step in a healing journey. Soon Judy was touring the Herma Heart Institute, meeting with doctors and having the rare privilege of observing Chief of Pediatric Heart Surgery, Viktor Hraska, MD, perform a life-saving surgery on a 6-dayold infant with HLHS. "It blew me away," she said. She now frequently attends Children's Wisconsin events, continues to give annually, and has made a generous estate gift to the heart program.

"More than anything I want this devastating personal tragedy to become an opportunity of hope and survival for parents and children who have gone through similar situations," Judy said. "I hope in some small way I’ve been able to make a difference"