NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — This month you've likely seen hearts at every turn, but a group born in the ICU at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt is working to change the way you think about hearts.
For Tyler Thayer and his wife, Erica, the clock is ticking.
"The way I look at it, I have 20 years to find a cure, so that's what we're doing," says Tyler, the Co-Founder and President of Project Heart.
Four years ago, their son Calvin was born with several Congenital Heart Defects. And in that time, he's undergone three open heart surgeries.
"It is the most common birth defect - the funny thing is - we didn't even know about it. Then to come and find out, 1 in 100 children are born every year with this disease and we've never heard about it? That's crazy," he said.
As Calvin was recovering from his second surgery, the Thayers felt a calling on their hearts.
"The more and more we talked about this we thought, we should do something about this," says Erica, Co-Founder and Vice President of Project Heart.
And that's when Project Heart was born.
"I said we have to do this like St. Jude. We have to go at this like a business," remembers Tyler.
Their mission -- make CHD a household name, fund research and find a cure.
"Without public demand for this research, we can't have people funding the research."
So in February, a month for all things heart, Elizabeth Jones went to work designing billboards to catch your eye, peak your interest and grab your heart. She's not just a talented designer, she's the mom of a heart warrior.
Her son Everett, was born with Tetralogy of Fallot with Pulmonary Atresia and Mapcas. He fought for 79 days, but never made it home from the hospital. Jones now volunteers her time with Project Heart.
"It reminds me of Everett. It seems like a part of Everett and I just want to keep that alive," she says.
Billboards featuring Project Heart dotted the Nashville skyline this month with one goal in mind.
"First step is we've made an investment in creating a brand that we hope will be recognized nationally as CHD. So when the average American sees it, they're like BAM - I know what this is about," explains Tyler.
The Thayers know recognition of the disease will lead to funding - funding will lead to research - and research will save lives.
"We started this to be a Nashville based charity that has a worldwide impact."
The goals to raise awareness and fund research are happening simultaneously. Project Heart has already funded six research grants at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital where doctors are working to create a stent that will replace an open heart surgery for some babies. They're also working on growing heart valves with a baby's own stem cells. If they can do that, the thought is, one day they will be able to grow a heart.
To find out more about Project Heart, visit: www.projectheart.org