By Amy Schechter

Eliana Chapman is far from a typical 4-year old. Behind the purple princess dress, matching nail polish, and winning smile is the spirit of a fighter.  At only two days old, Chapman endured the first of three open heart surgeries to correct a congenital heart defect called right hypoplastic heart syndrome. Much of Chapman’s young life has been spent in and out of hospitals to reroute the flow of blood in her heart; however against all odds, an energetic, rosy-cheeked girl who loves singing, dancing, and Disney princesses is evidence her heart is passionate and strong.

But Chapman’s story may never have had the chance to start if it were not for advances honing the three-step surgical process needed to correct the deficiency. Her mother, Karen Ruel said, “Fifteen years ago the technology that saved Eliana was not available. Children born with this defect died.”

For that reason, Chapman’s friends and family are participating in annual fundraisers to support the advancement of medical technology that benefits Eliana and others born with similar heart defects. They formed Team Eliana and will participate in the Sixth Annual Tampa Bay Congenital Heart Walk on Sunday, April 26. The event takes place at Al Lopez Park, Shelter #315, located at 4810 N. Himes Ave. in Tampa. Registration for the event begins at 9 a.m. with a one mile family-friendly walk kicking off at 10 a.m.

The Congenital Heart Walk is a national fundraising event furthering both the Adult Congenital Heart Association and The Children’s Heart Foundation. Up to 1.3 million Americans live with some form of congenital heart defect according to the American Heart Association, and there is still much the medical community does not know about causes and treatments.

“All of Eliana’s doctors have been wonderful, but the life expectancy of Eliana’s heart is about fifteen years; she will eventually need a pacemaker. Scientists need the funding to fight for advancements in research, treatments, and positive outcomes for those stricken with congenital heart defects,” said Ruel. The proceeds from this walk will fund research which makes treating and correcting congenital heart defects possible, and it will help ensure Chapman has the opportunity to share her vibrant personality for many years to come.

Chapman and her family will have a tent set up at the event, and invite the community to join them as they celebrate her story and write the next chapter. After the walk, families can enjoy a catered breakfast and spend time on the playgrounds at the park. To join Team Eliana or make a donation visit http://bit.ly/1ExYSES and explore their Facebook group “Team Eliana Heart Walk.” For additional information, contact the National Walk Office at info@congenitalheartwalk.org or 855-CHD-WALK.