During the Christmas season 42 years ago, NaDean Wristbridge was a young mom whose 8-month-old baby needed a heart operation to survive. The baby, Susan, wasn't getting enough oxygen to her heart. Doctors said they would do the operation, but the family would need to solicit blood donations from the community.
So Wristbridge, of Egg Harbor Township, contacted The Press of Atlantic City. After a story ran she had donations from more than 70 people, who had to travel to Philadelphia to donate in the days when blood couldn't legally be transported over state lines, Wristbridge said.
Her daughter, Susan, had her surgery, grew up and remained healthy a long time.
Fast-forward 42 years, and now that baby is Susan Wristbridge Tharp, a married adult with twin 21-year-old daughters, who lives in Lindenwold with her husband.
And NaDean Wristbridge is again appealing to her community for help. This time, she is organizing fundraisers to help her daughter with the incredibly high copays and deductibles related to a heart transplant Dec. 6.
Tharp, whose health declined dramatically in the middle of 2011, is out of the hospital and recovering at home, said Wristbridge, who retired as nurse manager of the Emergency Room at Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House in 2008, and who is now an occasional nursing supervisor at the hospital.
The first fundraiser will be a Beef and Beer Jan. 21, at the Bayview Restaurant in Wildwood Crest. Helping Wristbridge is her other daughter, Rebecca Gravenstine, of Galloway Township, a hairstylist at C Melini in Somers Point; son Jim Wristbridge, who works at the ShopRite in Marmora, Upper Township and lives in Egg Harbor Township; and husband George Wristbridge, a bird carver who is donating two duck carvings to event raffles.
While she has insurance, Tharp said co-pays and deductibles have been enormous. Her co-pays for prescription drugs alone amount to more than $300 a month, she said.
Tharp graduated from Egg Harbor Township High School in 1987, where she met husband Russell Tharp. She remembers being healthy throughout childhood, although she couldn't keep up with other kids in sports. She had her first pacemaker installed at age 15.
Then at age 23, when her own girls were toddlers, she went into cardiac arrest as a result of having the flu. "With the flu, (cardiac) meds don't metabolize correctly," she said. "It was really scary and really upsetting. Since then I've been more proactive and I make sure I don't get the flu."
Tharp graduated from Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Galloway Township in 2002 with a degree in accounting. Husband Russell is a nurse at Kennedy Health Systems in Cherry Hill.
The family also asks that people consider making contributions to the National Transplant Assistance Fund in Tharp's honor.
Make checks payable to: NTAF Mid-Atlantic Heart Transplant Fund, 150 N. Radnor/Chester Road, Suite F-120, Radnor, Pa., 19087, call 800-642-8399 or visit www.NTAFund.org and enter Susan Tharp in the "Find a Patient" section on the homepage.
Beef and Beer, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Jan. 21 at Bayview Restaurant,
8100 Bayview Ave., Wildwood Crest.
Valentine Heart Benefit, 6 p.m.
to 9 p.m., Feb. 18, at Scullville Fire Hall, 1708 Somers Point Road, Egg Harbor Township.
Breakfast with the Easter Bunny, call for time, March 31, at Scullville Fire Hall.
For tickets and more information, contact NaDean Wristbridge at 609-927-1684.