Hartford saw its first major snowfall of the year on the evening of Nov. 15, and several inches accumulated outside Erin Town Hall on Highway 83, where inside, hundreds of community members were gathering for a very special fundraiser.
It was, said Sheila Heimermann, a “blizzard of blessings” – in more ways than one.
The fundraiser was hosted by St. Mary of the Hill Parish to benefit Heimermann’s 16-year-old son, Adam, who was injured during an Aug. 28 football game against Greenfield High School.
The severity of the injury was not immediately apparent that night, and Adam, a member of the Hartford Union High School’s junior varsity team, kept playing. But he would soon feel his head swelling inside his football helmet, and later collapsed.
Quick-thinking EMTs on the scene rushed him to Hartford Hospital, where it was discovered that Adam was bleeding onto his brain. He was taken by helicopter to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee.
The Heimermanns, longtime members at St. Mary of the Hill, had already begun to lean on their strong Catholic faith even before the full reality of their son’s injury was revealed.
“I had texted a friend to ask that they put Adam on the prayer chain at church when we were at Hartford Hospital,” said Sheila. “And by the time we got to Milwaukee, evidently the whole prayer chain had been notified already, and Fr. Fred (Alexander, pastor at St. Mary) had found out about it and drove down there.”
It was just the beginning of a steady stream of support for Adam and the Heimermann family, who have endured a difficult three months of uncertainty. Adam has undergone three brain surgeries and spent his 16th birthday in the hospital; he has also fought through kidney failure and an infection, for which he had to take antibiotics through a PICC line.
For several months after the injury, he was on a no-exertion order and couldn’t participate in any of his usual activities, including footballand gym class. He now attends school for five hours a day, and, according to his mom, hopes to be involved in football next year in some capacity, even if it’s not on the field.
In early December, the family posted good news on the Facebook page where they release updates of his condition: “Neurosurgeon team has said tests look good. Infection is GONE! Skull is healing! No need for a fourth surgery.”
On Dec. 18, there was more good news to report: “Neurocognitive tests indicated brain is healthy and able to continue to learn and function correctly. God has blessed us!”
Over 500 people attended the Nov. 15 spaghetti dinner organized by St. Mary of the Parish, raising more than $12,500 for the family to curb medical and rehabilitation costs. Sheila, a parish member since childhood, said that the support for her family has been overwhelming.
“It was like a wedding without the band and without the church service,” she said of the spaghetti dinner. “There were friends of my parents that I haven’t seen for quite some time, and both my husband’s family and my family came down for it.”
The spaghetti dinner also had volunteer help from St. Olaf’s, Hartford Union High School and Germantown High School. Ann Finnessy, who coordinated the event, estimated that there were over 100 parish members involved in making the fundraiser happen.
“There were probably eight tables of donated baked goods – they just kept coming and coming and coming,” she said, and added that many attendees didn’t even know the family personally.
Fr. Alexander said parishioners told him diners began arriving at 2:30 p.m., a half an hour before the fundraiser was slated to open. The place was still packed when he arrived after the 5:30 p.m. Mass.
“It was almost like Christmas in the sense that there was this pleasantness and this energy,” he said. Still, everyone was keenly aware of the reason for the benefit. “I would just imagine in the hearts of all parents who have children that age, they saw that could have been their child. It’s one thing to have a child go through one brain surgery, but as it continued to be three … it just kind of ripped the heart out of all of us.”
So why were so many people so eager to help Adam? It’s simple, said Finnessy – he’s the kind of person who would do it for anyone else.
“I do a ton of volunteering for our parish and I’m always asking for volunteers – and Adam is always one of the students I can count on to volunteer for me,” said Finnessy. “After his first brain surgery, he came and volunteered at the Holy Hill Arts and Crafts Fair and washed and dried dishes, working in the kitchen for an hour and a half and didn’t complain one bit. Most normal, able kids would choose not to come – but Adam is one of those kids that if you ask him, he’ll be happy to come and help.”
Community members also donated to the silent auction, which featured prizes that included a signed Packers’ jersey, vintage Harley-Davidson jackets, designer accessories, gift certificates and gift baskets.
A gofundme webpage has been established to help support the financial burden of Adam’s surgeries: gofundme.com/forteamadam. The family is still asking for prayers for Adam, as his recovery is ongoing.
Nevertheless, Finnessy said she can see a divine hand at work in many of the details of Adam’s injury.
“We’re lucky that Froedtert is the place to be; we’re lucky that the EMT knew (to take him to the hospital),” she said. “Everything about this – it was God-driven.”