For children recovering from heart surgery at Inova Children’s Hospital, a hospital stay can get a little brighter thanks to a special delivery from 12-year-old Myanna Kempton and her mom, Sheri Kempton.
Together, the two from Fairfax Station run Myannas Heart Totes, a nonprofit that provides tote bags full of toys, blankets, and other comfort items to children in the hospital with congenital heart defects — or “heart warriors,” as they call them.
Congenital heart defects are abnormalities that are present at birth. They occur in nearly 1 percent of all U.S. births per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One in four babies with a defect has a critical heart defect, which often requires surgery.
The project began in 2018, when Myanna was just 7 years old. Having undergone heart surgery for congenital heart defects at 5 months old and then spinal surgery at age 5, Myanna was inspired by her own experiences and wanted to help make other kids’ hospital stays less scary.
“What these bags do is they say, ‘You’re not alone in this. I’ve gone through this, too,’” Sheri Kempton says.
The bags are customized by age and gender and contain items designed to provide “comfort, hope, and love,” such as handmade blankets, pacifiers, puzzles, coloring books, and a Ty Beanie. Ty donated 440 Beanie Babies at the start of the venture. Each bag also has a T-shirt decorated with a rainbow Myanna drew and the words, “I am stronger than my storm.”
Myannas Heart Totes now sends the hospital about 100 bags per year, Kempton says.
In addition to deliveries to Inova every four to six weeks, Myanna chooses a few children per month from Instagram and ships them totes. “We got on social media and started realizing there were a lot of heart warriors all around the world,” Kempton says. “[The totes have] literally gone to countries all around the world.”
Families whose children have died receive bereavement boxes. This idea came when Myanna had a box ready to mail to a girl and then found out she died. Kempton says Myanna’s big heart came out again, and the little girl told her: “‘Well, Mommy, we have to give them something.’”
The nonprofit operates through donations and hopes to capture the community’s heart. It has a fundraiser running through November to collect monetary and toy donations through Amazon and Target registries, and it runs an annual toy drive at Glory Days Grill in Lorton and Burke between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Feature image of Myanna Kempton courtesy Sheri Kempton