This year's Heart Star turned 2 on Wednesday, just three days before the annual Mid-Missouri Heart Ball.
It was a birthday Olivia Schneider may not have reached without research supported by the American Heart Association. Olivia was born with what doctors call an atrioventricular septal defect — meaning she didn't have a wall separating the left and right sides of her heart. And, instead of having two valves that separate the upper and lower chambers of her heart, she was born with only one, according to her parents, Kelly and Chris Schneider.
It was something the Jefferson City family did not expect.
"I experienced a perfectly normal pregnancy and delivery," Kelly said. "She seemed perfectly healthy when she was born."
But, Olivia's first pediatrician heard a murmur and sent the newborn for further testing. That's when doctors discovered the heart defect.
"The first year of her life was very difficult, especially leading up to her surgery," Kelly said. "It's very common for kids like her to have symptoms of heart failure up until their surgery. It's like her body is running a marathon all the time."
The baby was always tired. She had feeding difficulty and a lot of struggle gaining wait. Because she didn't have enough weight for the open heart surgery, Olivia was hospitalized before her surgery so doctors could insert a feeding tube.
Olivia has had one surgery in St. Louis to repair her heart defect. She remained in the hospital about a week before being discharged.
The family's hope and prayer, Kelly said, is that Olivia won't need to have any more surgeries. But, it's not uncommon, as babies grow, for their valves to begin to leak.
"You'd never realize she had any kind of ordeal if you saw her now," Kelly said.
The Heart Ball is evolving with the times, said Melissa Lorts, a chairwoman for the event. The ball is a massive fundraiser, which features live and silent auctions.
Last year, for the first time, attendees were allowed to bid on items using their mobile devices.
"We were unsure how it was going to go," Lorts said, adding "we sold out of all of our items."
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More important, she said, was how well the bidding on items went. The Heart Association received about 65 percent of items' value.
Typically, getting 50 percent is considered a great success, she said.
Items in this year's silent auction included, but were not limited to, custom signs, original art, private tours of the old penitentiary and Bagnell Dam, outdoor packages, a beekeeper experience, custom furniture, a trip to a PGA Legends Tour tournament in Branson and bacon.
There were things to help students get ahead, such as the opportunity to bid on an ACT prep class. Golf lessons from Kevin Dunn and jewelry were also up for grabs.
Several catered meals were available, including a dinner for 10 from Oscar's Classic Diner, or packages from other restaurants for a shrimp boil for 25 or a meal for 25 from Sweet Chipotle Catering in Jefferson City.
Over 28 years, the ball has become one of the most popular events in Jefferson City, Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said.
Griffith, who once chaired the event, said he was always interested in the Heart Association because there was so much heart disease in his family. The event was always popular, but when organizers began highlighting the plight of a "Heart Child" or "Heart Star," it really took flight, said Griffith, whose son had heart surgery while in his 20s.
"When you look at the face of a child, it really opens your eyes to the dangers of heart disease," he said.
The ball is a joyous event that brings out people from all around Jefferson City, but underlying it is the desire from dedicated people to battle heart disease, said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, said.
Veit said the city steps up for charitable events like the ball.
"Every activity you go to," he said, "is filled with people wanting to help."