On Monday afternoon, Cory Mortensen, 41, was racing a child’s tricycle amidst a pack of frenzied kids in Cottonwood Creek Park, and he was struggling to keep up. Every one of the children around him has heart disease or suffers from a congenital heart defects — but that didn’t slow them down.
Three weeks ago, Mortensen, who owns a heart monitor manufacturer, EKO LLC, was inspired to take a bike trek to raise awareness about congenital heart defects and disease in children.
He rode 900 miles from his hometown of Minneapolis to Colorado Springs, where he met with kids and parents of Mended Little Hearts, a local chapter of national The Mended Hearts, Inc., that provides support for families with children who have heart problems.
About 30 Colorado Springs families are a part of Mended Little Hearts, according to group director Melissa Koinzan. Among other things, the group organizes monthly support group meetings for parents whose children were born with heart disease or other defects.
Koinzan’s son, eight-year-old Will, had heart surgery when he was six days old.
Koinzan explained that children with heart defects are often hard to spot, because they don’t typically show visible signs of having a disease. “Our kids, their scars are underneath their shirts,” she said.
Mary Berry, educational coordinator of Mended Little Hearts, brought her 3 1/2-year-old daughter, AnnaSophia, to the park to greet Mortensen. AnnaSophia, Berry explained, just had her third “Heart-erversary” — the third year since receiving a heart transplant, when she was six months old.
Mortensen met Berry and Koinzan at a conference in New Orleans last month and was inspired by the stories of their children. He decided to create a fund-raiser, in the form of a bike tour, and dubbed it the Tour de Mended Little Hearts. The women got their local doctors, of Pediatric Cardiology Associates, to donate the first $500, and the rest Mortensen raised from friends and employees.
A week ago, after helping raise another $250, he pointed his bike southwest, and headed for the Springs.
“It was a total credit card ride. I just carried a credit card and some extra tubes,” he said, referring to his emergency tire-repair kit. Mortensen stopped wherever there was a motel or an inn, and rode about 100 miles a day.
He hopes to turn the tour into an annual event, and added that one of his employees is going to do it with him next year. All funds will go towards Mended Little Hearts.
At the gathering was Springs resident Michelle Wegner, the Mrs. United America Pageant winner of 2010, who has a pacemaker. Wegner said she struggled with heart troubles as a child but was not properly diagnosed until she was 40. As an adult with heart disease, she knows that the first heart surgeries can be just the beginning.
“For many kids, they still have some years of surgeries ahead,” she said.