After baby’s heart transplant, Wisconsin Dells couple starts nonprofit to pay it forward

An area family whose baby had a heart transplant last year is paying it forward.

Travis and Milynda Cornford know what it’s like to drive five hours a day back and forth, from their home near the Wisconsin Dells to Milwaukee, to be with their baby boy as he awaited and recovered from his heart transplant.

“We stayed in the hospital 217 days,” Milynda Cornford said. Baby Heath was hospitalized for the first 7 months of his life.

They first shared their story with News 3 Now last year in April.

About 500 heart transplants are performed on children each year worldwide, and it’s even rarer for an infant to undergo the procedure. The Cornfords say Heath’s condition, cornoary ostial stenosis, was an unusual fluke.

“I think he’s a miracle,” Travis Cornford said.

Being a new parent is tough.

“We’re really busy. Like, really busy,” Milynda Cornford said.

“Extremely busy,” added Travis Cornford.

But after what it took to get where they are, it’s easy for them to be grateful.

“I don’t think a lot of the doctors even thought he’d be sitting here, honestly,” Milynda Cornford said. “He is a normal, drooling, teething toddler.”

Not only are they celebrating their new, healthy daughter, Kenna, who was born four months ago, but July marks the anniversary of 1 1/2-year-old Heath’s heart transplant.

“I see my wife in him. He’s happy,” Travis Cornford said.

“He can’t really play in the dirt and do all the normal things, but he can be a normal toddler in other ways,” Milynda Cornford said.

Since Heath was born, his mother has kept a blog written in his voice, documenting a time that’s still difficult to think about.

“It’s hard to read back on,” Milynda Cornford said. “A lot of people donated to our family, so we want to give back.”

They’re giving back with their new nonprofit, A Heart for Heath, Inc., which offers families in Madison and Milwaukee’s cardiac intensive care units care packages, with the eventual goal of helping with worries like mortgage payments.

“Things you shouldn’t have to worry about when your child is in the hospital,” Milynda Cornford said. “Your children are the most important thing.”

As the Cornfords write a new future with open possibilities, they’re using their past experience to make life for parents in their shoes a little easier.

“We’re fortunate we got to bring our son home. He’s doing well,” Travis Cornford said. “I really want to be able to help pay it forward.”

The family is holding a mud race at the Juneau County Fairgrounds in Mauston on Saturday to raise money for their organization. A blood drive is also being held in Heath’s honor Friday, Sept. 27. More information can be found here.

Get your weather forecast from people who actually live in your community. We update with short, easy-to-use video forecasts you can watch on your phone every day. Download the iOS or Android app here.