MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — Callie Chiroff lost her son, Theo, to congenital heart disease (CHD) four years ago. Her short life inspired her to start a non-profit organization called Project Bubaloo. In a short time, the organization has grown and is helping to raise awareness and fund CHDs.
“Thank you for coming,” Chiroff greeted with hugs at a fundraiser in March.
She had been running around all afternoon to make sure everything was perfect. The beer was on ice and the food ready.
“Can you help in the locker room?” she asked for some volunteers.
She made one last visit to Coast’s event space in downtown Milwaukee.
“I’m sweating a bit,” Chiroff said with a laugh. “But really and truly, I have so much support and so much help that it’s all been pretty easy.”
The event, called Hops for Hearts, is a labor of love. All the money raised goes to the Bubaloo project.
“That was his nickname. I don’t know why, I just started calling him that,” Chiroff explained.
Théo was born in September 2017 with congenital heart disease.
“During my 20 week ultrasound they told me something was wrong, and there was something wrong with his heart and he would need heart surgery opened at birth,” Chiroff said.
Chiroff spent six months alongside Theo at Children’s Wisconsin.
“Over time, he had more complications and more complications,” she explained. “And he, for six months, fought very hard.”
Her baby, with her big brown eyes, talks to her, every day, in her own way.
“He had the biggest brown eyes you could imagine, it looked demure,” she said. “He was talking to you through his eyes and he was so sick for so long.”
Watching Theo fight, she made the decision no parent wants to make – to withdraw care.
“Eventually we knew his life wasn’t supposed to be long, and he was telling me his life wasn’t going to be long,” Chiroff said.
With this decision, she took Theo outside for the very first time.
“I was able to take her outside and let the sun shine on her face, and that, to me, was saying goodbye to her,” she said.
But Chiroff also made a promise to Theo that day.
“I promised him that I wasn’t going to waste my life, because he didn’t have one,” she said, crying.
His sister, Katherine Jansen, was by Chiroff’s side the entire time.
“When you have that passion for something, that’s all you need,” Jansen said of the decision to start the Bubaloo project.
The non-profit organization raises awareness and funds to fight coronary artery disease, which affects one in 100 children.
“It’s a crisis that nobody knows about, that’s why we’re here, to tell people more,” Jansen said.
Initially, the two didn’t know much about running a nonprofit organization.
“I’ll let you in on a little secret. I think we just, we did it,” Chiroff said with a shrug. “I hate to say it, but it’s one of those things where you want to do something and you just learn along the way. There’s no playbook for it.”
Passion for the cause drove them.
“That’s one of the things Theo taught me was to follow your passion. After he died, I remember I was in a job that I didn’t like, I was looking for other jobs Life is too short not to do what you are passionate about,” Jansen said.
Now Jansen has a new calling, fighting for other families raising children with coronary artery disease.
“I’ve never been to so many child funerals since I know people from the CHD community. And to me, that’s just not acceptable,” she said.
The sisters spread the word. Hundreds of people participated in the Hops for Hearts event. He raised over $60,000.
“You really don’t realize how many good people are out there and people want to do good too,” Jansen said of the support they got from the community.
It is a celebration of Théo’s life and a legacy to carry on.
“We’re so passionate about it, and it’s something that means so much to us that it’s not a job. It’s fun,” Jansen said.
“I just want him to be proud, and I think, I think he is,” Chiroff added. “We just want to keep making a difference.”
For more information on the Bubaloo project and how you can help, click here.