colten romines

Colten Romines has a special heart, and it’s not just because he was born with a complex congenital heart defect. The 11-year-old is passionate about raising money and awareness about heart disease, and he helped his school land at the top of fundraising among middle schools in Arkansas.

Colten and his classmates at Brookland Middle School kicked off another Hoops for Hearts campaign on May 5 by gathering pledges for the event that runs through May 13. Last year when they took to the court and shot baskets, the students at the smaller Brookland raised $7,113 for the American Heart Association.

“I like the fact that raising money helps other kids with heart conditions,” said Colten, who himself raised $1,336.

Colten’s parents found out about their son’s heart condition when he was 8 days old. The doctor detected a heart murmur and a low oxygen level at a checkup that — thanks to someone’s cancelled appointment — occurred before Colten’s scheduled 2-week-old checkup. An ambulance rushed Colten to Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock where he underwent an emergency surgery. It was the first of three open heart surgeries before the age of 1.

He was born with a complex condition of double inlet with transposition of the great vessels with coarctation of the aortic arch. Carrie Romines said her son essentially has only half a heart that is working for him and that it was basically pumping the wrong way. His main arteries were reversed so his blood was not getting enough oxygen. Also, Colten’s aorta was narrowed to the size of a pin needle and his heart was missing the wall or septum.

Due to complications, he is legally blind in the right eye, his left vocal cord is paralyzed and he has had to undergo multiple surgeries on his stomach, eyes, ears and sinuses.

“I’ve survived a lot,” Colten said. “My only words are ‘wow!’”

“We had a long road and we worked really hard, but we do our best to try to overcome obstacles when we can,” said Mrs. Romines. “But when we can’t, we try to stay positive and remember there’s a bigger picture that sometimes we just can’t see.”

His parents don’t want Colten’s heart disease to define him, so they allow him to learn his limitations while doing activities he enjoys.

“I love rock climbing. I just started recently, but I love rock climbing so much,” Colten said.

“We’ve tried really hard, and will continue to try really hard, to make sure Colten knows how far he can go,” Mrs. Romines said.

“We can’t be with him every step of the way, and we try to make him aware of his body, his condition, his limitations, and I think, we’re just a strong advocate in the process.”

Colten likes to share his story with his classmates and enjoys the friendly competition that comes with Hoops for Hearts, especially the special reward for the class that earns the most money. Last year, it was an extra recess.

“He pumps them up. He challenges them big time to try to beat him,” his mom said. “He really works hard to earn the money he does, and he works hard to educate everybody, including Matt, my husband, and I. He never stops surprising us or just blowing our minds about how much he has grown or how mature he is.”