Help-A-Heart is a non-profit organization (501(c)3) that Melissa Hooper & Emily Graber co-founded on May 9, 2006, to solely benefit children with congenital heart defects (CHD’s) who are hospitalized during a surgery or other health related issues for an extended period of time.  Both women are directly affected by this because they have sons that were born in 2005 with a CHD.

Gabe Graber was born on January 1, 2005, with Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome and had an open heart surgery on July 7, 2005 & May 1, 2007 & survived a stroke on May 8, 2007.  Gabe has spent 48 days in the hospital related to heart issues since birth.  Dylan Hooper was born on June 1, 2005, with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and had 3 open heart surgeries, on June 9, 2005, October 27, 2005, and March 5, 2008.  Dylan survived a cardiac arrest on December 26, 2005 and has spent approximately 270 days (9 months) in the hospital.  After 3 years of fighting this disease, Dylan courageously passed away on June 30, 2008.  You can view more about our personal stories at under “gabegraber” and “dylanhooper”. Due to our personal experiences, we felt compelled to create an organization that will provide financial assistance to families in need during their hospitalizations, so that they can focus on caring for the needs of their child.

We have held 28 fundraisers since May 2006—14 silent auctions, 14 walks, and 6 runs, all in the Des Moines area.  We have given away over $240,000 to over 400 different families during their child’s hospital stays.  Since our funding is coming primarily from Iowans, we have focused our efforts in Iowa at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines and at the University of Iowa Children’s Hospital in Iowa City, but have assisted Iowans that have gone out of state for care.  Families become eligible for assistance once their child’s stay has exceeded two weeks.  After that time, they will receive $100 for each week their child is in the hospital.  This financial assistance is intended to pay for expenses the family incurs so that they can remain with their child during their hospital stay, such as food and gas cards.  Some of the children that we have helped have stayed in the hospital up to 9 months and an average hospital stay following an open heart surgery would be around 4 weeks.

In October 2010, we began the Help-A-Heart Support Group.  This has extended our mission to providing emotional support for families as well.  While our journeys can vary significantly, heart families face a lot of the same struggles when raising their child.  If you would like more information about the support group, please contact Kasey Vermillion at

All future donations can be made out to Help-A-Heart & can be sent to:

Help-A-Heart c/o Emily Graber

P.O. Box 533

Prairie City, IA 50228

Online donations are accepted all year HERE