A Westminster couple took a tragic life event and decided to turn it into something that would help a number of other families struggling through difficult times.
A year after losing one of their 2-year-old triplets, Aiden, to open heart surgery, Katelin and Tom Krueger created the Krueger Hat Trick Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to providing financial aid and hope for families affected by congenital heart defects/disease (CHD).
According to the organization’s website, every year nearly 40,000 babies are born with CHD, which is nearly 110 children per day. Despite these numbers, they say CHDs are not widely known about and research is underfunded.
“We needed to do something positive in our horrible situation,” Katelin said. “We could lay in bed all day and cry or we could continue Aiden’s legacy and help other people.”
In October 2020, the two parents went to work honoring their son’s memory.
“We started the Krueger Hat Trick Foundation because CHD is so common and so little talked about. ... People don’t know how to fundraise for it,” Katelin said.
The foundation supports children with CHD and their families in several ways, including providing comfort kits, made up of items one might need after staying overnight at the hospital, such as toiletries, phone chargers, comfort items for babies and even Amazon Fire tablets for older children.
Katelin said the comfort kits are requested and provided to families all over the country, from California to Michigan to Pennsylvania.
The initiative started as a hobby with a goal of raising between $10,000 and $15,000 a year to “do nice things for families” but to date, the couple has raised about $90,000, Katelin shared.
“We’ve grown immensely in a short amount of time,” she said, adding they’ve received a lot of donations from the community.
“The foundation blew up,” she said. “It’s way bigger than what we ever imagined. … It’s a blessing and there is no better way to spread Aiden’s story.”
Some of the money raised is used to pays bills for parents who have lost jobs while their child is sick and for parking at the hospital when overnight stays are necessary. In addition, Katelin and Tom partner with local restaurants to provide meals to staff working the intensive care unit at a number of hospitals in the region.
A portion of funds are donated to CHD research as well.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from the University of Maryland Medical Center and families,” she said. “Once your child is sitting in the hospital you feel very alone. … It’s nice to know people are there for you.”
Katelin said long-term goals of the foundation include starting a nursing scholarship for local high school students and sending families going through bereavement on a small trip or vacation.
“Our biggest goal is being able to spread awareness of this disease … it’s common and there is no cure,” she said. “We can find better interventions that don’t cause so much trauma to a child.”
Kayleigh Koehler, a life specialist at UMMC, is also the mother of a child who has had to receive open heart surgery.
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Working in the pediatric care unit at the hospital, Koehler said she has experience working with heart patients and worked in the unit when Aiden was getting taken care of.
“Katelin and Tom reached out to me when they started the foundation, asking for ideas to take their mission further,” she said. “They’ve taken such a tragic moment and turned it into something beautiful.
“They could have easily let the loss of their child destroy them but instead they’ve helped numerous family and friends.”
Koehler pointed out the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t slow the couple down.
“Their impact is rippling out further than just Baltimore and Maryland. … They are still such a young foundation and have so far to go,” she said, calling Katelin the “fairy godmother” of the pediatric intensive care unit.
Katelin and Tom never cease to amaze her with what they come up with, she said.
“I feel very lucky to work with them,” Koehler said. “Aiden’s impact will be forever.”