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C. Milton Wright junior Caroline Hickam, who was born with a heart defect, is raising money to help the school system buy kits to help train students in CPR.
C. Milton Wright junior Caroline Hickam, who was born with a heart defect, is raising money to help the school system buy kits to help train students in CPR. (MATT BUTTON | AEGIS STAFF, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

C. Milton Wright High junior Caroline Hickam had open heart surgery when she was just two weeks old, and she's going to need another one, though exactly when is uncertain.

The 16-year-old Bel Air resident was born with a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot, which includes a hole between the lower chambers of the heart, an obstruction from the heart to the lungs, the aorta (blood vessel) lyingover the hole in the lower chambers and an overly thickened muscle surrounding the lower right chamber.

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Heart disease, the number one killer in the United States that is expected to be the number one killer in the world by 2020, is often overlooked, Caroline said.

She's trying to change that, as well as help Harford County Public Schools buy CPR kits to help students learn a vital life-saving skill that will soon become part of their curriculum.

Students entering ninth grade next year will be required to complete a class in CPR that includes instruction in hands-only CPR and how to use an automatic external defibrillator.

"Since I have heart disease, I have a passion for the cause," Caroline said. "With more awareness, we can save so many more lives."

For her Girl Scout Gold Project, Caroline is raising money to help the school system buy kits to help train students in CPR.

"It's proven that everyone who knows CPR teaches at least five people and uses it one time in their life," she said. "They can take that initial step and do CPR until emergency help arrives."

To raise money for those kits, Caroline is working with Tri-M, the music honor society at CMW, to host a Heart Disease Awareness fundraiser featuring rePercussion, a two-person percussion comedy group, one of whom is her mother's cousin. The Nashville pair turn all kinds of things into percussion instruments and make music out of them.

Tickets to the Wednesday, Feb. 11 show at CMW are $5 for students and $10 for adults; they can be ordered by sending an email to followyourartfeb11@gmail.com. Caroline also has a Facebook page, Follow Your Art, where details of the event will be posted.

All proceeds from the event will go to Harford County Public Schools to assist in buying the CPR training kits – dolls, training mats, etc. – that will be needed to meet the CPR mandate by the end of the next school year.

"I want to contribute as much as I can," Caroline said.

A Girl Scout Gold Project is identifying a problem and doing what you can to solve it. For Caroline, the choice was easy. Many other diseases and illnesses, like cancer, get lots more attention. Caroline wants to raise awareness for something she is not only intimately familiar with, but is lesser known and more deadly.

She also wants to appeal to a crowd different than those who participate in the Jump Rope for Heart and Hoops for Heart awareness programs done in elementary schools.

"I'm very passionate for music. I wanted to get those kinds of people involved," Caroline said.

During the Band Day Concert at CMW on Jan. 28, when fifth-grade and eight-grade band members from CMW feeder schools play a concert together, followed by a performance by the CMW Marching Band, Caroline was drumming up support for her upcoming event.

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Caroline, who plays seven or eight instruments, is in the symphonic, marching and jazz bands at CMW and also performed last Wednesday night.

She also plays varsity softball, has played soccer and volleyball and is active in her church as a confirmation mentor and a member of the youth council.

She has about 80 percent capacity of a healthy 16-year-old, Caroline's mom, Beth, said, so she tires a little more easily, but heart disease hasn't stopped Caroline from doing anything she wants to do.

While she will eventually need another surgery, it's not clear when that will be.

Her pulmonary valve is missing, which allows blood to flow back and forth in one of her ventricles, stretching it. She has regular visits with doctors, who have to determine the optimal stretch before it won't recover, Beth Hickam said.

Not only is the procedure to fix the valve open heart surgery, once the doctors start repairing the valve, it has to be done every 10 to 15 years, her mom said.

Her first surgery was done at Boston's Children's Hospital, when the family was living in North Carolina. Caroline has a younger brother, TJ, 10, and sister, Lindsey, 6. Her dad is Jeff.

Having their child have surgery at such a young age was "very surreal," Beth said.

"But looking back, thinking about it now, it was easier at two weeks than two years when you know them and they have a personality," Beth said. "As hard as it was, it was easier than it would be when I knew her."

Anyone who would like to make a donation but can't make the show Feb. 11 can email followyourartfeb11@gmail.com.

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