Lifesaving Experience Inspires Kindergartner to Donate Birthday Gifts

Hannah Mae Campbell, 6, received a lifesaving heart transplant at 4 months old. She recently donated her birthday presents to Seattle Children’s.

Last month, 6-year-old Hannah Mae Campbell wanted to invite her entire kindergarten class to her birthday party. However, Hannah decided that she couldn’t possibly keep all of the gifts herself; rather she told her mother that she wanted to give them to kids at Seattle Children’s.

She said she wanted to give kids something to play with that would help them “have fun” and “feel happy,” since being at the hospital can sometimes be sad. Surpassing her original goal of donating 20 gifts, Hannah and her family delivered 139 toys and books to the hospital. The activities included Lego sets, Play-Doh, My Little Pony, Hot Wheels, puzzles, coloring books, dolls, superheroes and stuffed animals.

“Everyone says she’s such an old soul who is always wanting to help others,” said Jennifer Campbell, Hannah’s mother. “A lot of it may have to do with growing up a little quicker in a hospital. Hannah has experienced things like blood transfusions and surgery that a lot of kids have never had to go through.”

Hannah, who was diagnosed with a rare heart condition as an infant, knows firsthand what it’s like to stay at the hospital for long periods of time. It’s this experience that inspired her to give back.

An extraordinary journey

Hannah as an infant with her mother, Jennifer Campbell.

After she was born with a rapid heartbeat, Hannah was transferred to the Seattle Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). She was first diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a rapid heartbeat that can be common in newborns, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a thickening of the heart muscle. At first, both conditions were under control with medication and Hannah was able to go home. However, Campbell discovered Hannah’s heart had doubled in size and Hannah was taken back to Seattle Children’s, where urgent ECPR – a combination of CPR and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a machine that functions for the heart and lungs – helped save her life.

Next, Hannah needed a heart transplant. At 4 months old, Hannah received a new heart. It was then that doctors discovered that Hannah had an extremely rare condition called diffuse rhabdomyomatosis, which means the heart is essentially ingrained with benign tumor cells that continue to grow. Hannah is the only known survivor with her diagnosis.

For Campbell, seeing Hannah turn 6 years old is “surreal.”

“It’s amazing how far she has come,” Campbell said. “She’s so nurturing, helpful, kind and aware of other people. Watching her succeed in life after the hardship that she’s been through is remarkable to me. She has definitely defied the odds.”

When Hannah’s story was first shared back in 2014, Hannah was 2 years old and celebrating the anniversary of the day she received a new heart. Four years later, Hannah is a sociable, caring and active kindergartener who adores her teacher and friends. She plays soccer and T-ball, takes swim lessons and enjoys playing with her siblings.

“She loves to run and play,” Campbell said. “She’s doing fantastic in kindergarten and she has a great group of friends. Her teacher says she is one of the leaders and she likes to include everyone in class.”

At school, Hannah has won multiple awards in her class for being “most responsible” and “most kind.” Her kindness and “old soul” also allows her to connect with people of all ages.

“Some of her best friends at church are in their 80s while others in her Sunday school are her age,” Campbell said. “She can talk and be around anyone.”

Hannah’s experience inspires annual blood drives, new toy drive

Hannah and her siblings.

Hannah’s incredible journey inspired the family to begin organizing annual blood drives on her birthday, starting the first year when Hannah was still in the hospital and had 59 blood transfusions.

“Those 59 people who woke up and decided to donate blood helped to save my daughter’s life,” Campbell said. “I thought, how can I help to give back?”

The first blood drive had an impressive turnout, with more than 100 donors.

“It’s been amazing,” Campbell said. “There are friends who donate blood each year and others who donate blood for the first time.”

The idea for Hannah’s first-ever birthday gift donation began when she asked to invite her entire kindergarten class to her 6th birthday party. However, Hannah didn’t want to keep all 22 gifts to herself – instead, she told her mother that she wanted to give them to kids at Seattle Children’s.

“I thought that was amazing,” Campbell said. “When you go to the hospital, you can’t bring all your toys from home because of germs, and a lot of times Hannah was in isolation. That’s when Child Life would bring toys to our room. I thought it was such a fantastic idea.”

Hannah spread the word about her birthday donations at school, church and the annual blood drive held on her birthday, May 18. At this year’s blood drive, the Campbells had a table asking for new books and toys. Hannah also helped make her birthday party invites, which encouraged attendees to donate a new toy or book for Seattle Children’s instead of bringing presents for her. At church, Hannah spoke to the 200-member congregation about the importance of blood donation and her plan to donate her birthday gifts to Seattle Children’s.

“It’s kind of amazing, because she gets shy but she is very clear about what she wants to do,” Campbell said. “Her heart cares for everyone.”

Campbell also posted a video of Hannah talking about her birthday donation on her Facebook page, Hope for Hannah Mae, leading to more donations.

A generous donation

On May 25, the Campbell family delivered 139 toys and books to Seattle Children’s Volunteer Services.

On May 25, the Campbell family delivered 139 toys and books to Seattle Children’s Volunteer Services, where they made a new friend named David and got stickers that said they made a difference.

“It’s so sweet when young people donate their gifts like this,” said Janel Wohlers, in-kind gift coordinator at Seattle Children’s. “It’s also nice to see generosity be instilled at a young age.”

Campbell said the toy drive provides an alternative opportunity to support Hannah and Seattle Children’s for those who cannot donate blood.

The donation was so successful that Hannah plans to donate her birthday presents again next year – and every year after. For her 7th birthday, she hopes to donate 158 toys and books to Seattle Children’s.

“Hannah inspires me,” Campbell said. “I hope to be as good as her someday. Her heart is in a whole different place; she’s just a giving person.”