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Young Hayden siblings raise funds for children with heart trouble

When Sarah and Emily Kladar visited a medical clinic in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, three years ago, they were stunned by dozens of photos plastered on a wall.

All were of children – many their own ages – who might die without heart surgery.

“It was sad,” said Emily, now 11.

“It was overwhelming,” said Sarah, 13. “That was our – this is real – push into the world.”

That visit was the inspiration for a charity the Hayden children created with their brother, Thomas, 9, to provide financial support to families of children who need heart surgery. They created a name and a logo and decided to sell dish towels to raise money.

Today, Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts has sold more than 6,000 dish towels nationwide, raising $50,000 and helping the families of 22 pediatric heart patients in the United States and Mexico.

In the first seven months, from August 2008 to February 2009, they raised $15,000, enough to help 13 Mexican children have heart surgery. When they returned home, they continued the charity in this country. By forming partnerships with hospital foundations, including the Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Foundations, they have helped children in the Northwest, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Illinois.

Hospital social workers screen the families of heart patients for financial need and submit requests to the Kladar charity. The Kladars decide as a family which families to help, then send checks back to the hospital foundations, said Katie Kladar, the children’s mother. The charity usually contributes from $1,000 to $2,000 per family, she said.

The money can go to food, travel, lodging, gas or medical costs not covered by insurance.

“It was huge,” said Jennifer Johnson, a single mother from Boise whose son, Gabriel, had heart surgery at Sacred Heart in his first few months of life. Gabriel and his twin brother, Kyle, are now 2 ½. “I had saved up plenty to have them. I just didn’t plan on the extra. It is a huge help when you’re going through a major medical crisis.”

Joyce Cameron, executive director of the Sacred Heart foundations, said the Kladar children have a deep understanding of philanthropy at an unusually young age.

“They continue to support the Children’s Hospital pediatric heart patients,” she said. “It makes a huge difference, because there are so many programs for pediatric oncology, and this is for heart patients.”

Kids Helping Kids Fix Broken Hearts is a nonprofit organization and has a goal of helping a child in each of the 50 states.

The children also have their eye on another goal, which could expedite their efforts. They’ve made it through four rounds of judging in the 3rd Annual Classy Awards, which Sarah Kladar calls the “Grammys of philanthropy.”

Online voting is under way in several categories, including “small charity of the year,” where the Kladar charity is ranked 12th. If they get into the top 10, they will go to San Diego in September to compete for the top prize.

If they are named small charity of the year, they’ll win $15,000.

“That would be able to really help a lot of families,” Sarah Kladar said.