Two things helped Jimmy Williams keep his spirits up while waiting for a heart transplant at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital: faith and community.
“I just prayed to God, and my family obviously helped me a lot,” he said. “I had a great community around me, and that helped me get through it.”
Jimmy, 13, is this year’s Cardinal Glennon Homers for Health patient co-chair. Through the Homers for Health program, founded in 2012 by former St. Louis Cardinals player Matt Holliday and his wife, Leslee, fans pledge to donate a certain amount of money per Cardinals home run. The program has raised more than $5 million, helping create new child-friendly spaces including the Imaging Center, the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and the Inpatient and Outpatient Cancer Units.
Jimmy’s journey with Cardinal Glennon began in August 2019. After a few unusual bouts of nausea and vomiting during golf matches and at school, Jimmy and his parents traveled from their home in Jackson to Cardinal Glennon for evaluation. He was diagnosed with pediatric cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart. He was in heart failure, and he was quickly placed on the heart transplant list. He had open heart surgery to place a Left Ventricle Assistive Device (LVAD) to help his left ventricle pump correctly until he could receive a new heart.
After his successful LVAD surgery, his care at Cardinal Glennon focused on getting his body strong and ready for the new heart. He participated in physical and occupational therapy, visited with family and friends and spent time with the therapy dog. He also went to school five days a week through Cardinal Glennon’s Shining Star School, coordinating with his teacher back at Jackson R-2 Middle School to make sure he was keeping up with his fifth-grade classmates back home.
After about a month, Jimmy was able to move out of the hospital into a nearby apartment with his parents, Shana and Jim, while waiting for his heart transplant. To make that possible, Cardinal Glennon nurses and doctors trained Shana and Jim on the proper care associated with the LVAD and even gave area EMTs a course on it, too. Jimmy still went to school at Cardinal Glennon five days a week and reported for regular bloodwork and therapies, but the family was able to enjoy the normalcy of going home at night.
Jimmy received his new heart in a 13-hour operation on Dec. 13, 2019, and was discharged just two weeks later. After two biopsies showed no signs of his body rejecting his new heart, Jimmy and his family returned home to Jackson on Jan. 15, 2020.
Now a rising eighth grader at Jackson Middle School, Jimmy is enthusiastically enjoying his duties as Homers for Health co-chair. He’s appeared in commercials for the program, and he shared his Cardinal Glennon story at last year’s Holliday’s Heroes event.
“I got to speak in front of Matt Holliday and Nolan Arenado, so it was definitely a cool experience,” Jimmy said.
The role certainly comes with its perks, like attending several Cardinals games and having the chance to go out on the field.
“I got to go out there and put the ball on the mound for Opening Day,” Jimmy said. “That was really awesome.”
Jimmy also likes being able to return to Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital to visit with current patients. Recently, he spent time with a 17-year-old boy who had just undergone a heart transplant — a familiar experience for Jimmy. Since he had such a good community supporting him during his time in the hospital, Jimmy wants to help provide that for others now, he said.
“I just want to help them get through that tough period in their life,” he said.
He’s also gotten to catch up with some of his favorite nurses and therapists who worked with him during his own hospital stay.
“The nurses are the best. They’re really like God’s gifts from heaven,” he said. “And the doctors really know what they’re doing.”
From Jimmy’s diagnosis to now, faith and prayer have been important anchors for the family, said Shana Williams, Jimmy’s mother. Soon after he was diagnosed, the family set up a Facebook page called Jimmy Williams’ Prayer Warriors to ask for prayers and give updates on Jimmy’s progress. They felt tremendous support from both the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital team and their community of family and friends back in Jackson, Shana said.
“We knew that we were going to be going through a difficult time, and prayers are definitely what carry you through something that’s as difficult as Jimmy’s journey — it was months and months of just worrying and not knowing the outcome,” Shana said. “God was with us every step of the way. I feel His presence every day. And it wasn’t like He was in front of me — He was right beside me, holding our hands.”
The Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital mission, “Through our exceptional health care services, we reveal the healing presence of God,” was certainly evident to their family, Shana said.
“From the very beginning, I felt like God was with us,” Shana said.
Learn more about Homers for Health at www.glennon.org/what-we-do/homers-for-health/.