When bringing a child into the world, you don’t expect for the worst to happen. Unfortunately for the Sparks family, when their son, Ryker, was born on May 25, 2018, their lives were flipped upside down. Shortly after Haley Sparks gave birth, the delivery team snatched Ryker, and took him straight to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He was later transferred to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where he stayed for quite some time. During his time in Children’s Mercy Hospital, Ryker suffered several strokes, and had to be resuscitated three times – once in his dad’s arms. The Sparks found out that Ryker had a congenital heart defect (CHD) called “hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).” In their nearly three years after the birth of their son, Haley and Nicholas Sparks have made it their mission to fight for their son – and other kids like him – and spread awareness about HLHS through their new boutique called “This Little Heart of Mine.”
“We started this boutique in honor of Ryker,” said Haley. This Little Heart of Mine sells mainly women’s apparel, baby clothes, and a few other accessories. They share a space with Haley’s good friend, Darian, who owns a salon called “Hello Darlin’.” One dollar from every sale goes to a nonprofit called, “Remington’s Heart Foundation.” The nonprofit was founded in honor of another little girl, Remington, who died in 2017 to the same defect that Ryker has. Haley said that Darian has been a huge blessing to her, and could definitely not be in business without her.
“I definitely didn’t start this because of the money, which is a bonus, I guess. The only thing I truly care about is my son, and helping kids like him, and that’s the only thing I want to be doing for the rest of my life. I want to honor my son in any way that I possibly can.” As for her plans next, Haley wants This Little Heart of Mine to become a clothing manufacturer. “I want for people to look at the tags on their clothes and see our logo, and know that we are making a difference.”
There is hope for Ryker. Overall, he looks to be a healthy, normal toddler. “As he gets older, I think he’s more aware that he’s not like most kids. He has a feeding tube in right now. We have to make sure he gets proper nutrition.” Haley continued, “I don’t want him to grow up thinking that he’s different, and that he can’t do things. Unfortunately, the average age for someone with HLHS is in their 30s, but we are always hopeful as we continue to get exposure, and as science progresses.”
Ryker’s next surgery is scheduled for summer 2022. If all goes well, he will not need to be put on the heart transplant list. It can be extremely difficult for a child of his age to have a heart transplant early. Ryker would have to take medicine for the rest of his life, to prevent the likelihood of his body rejecting the new heart. It is, however, extremely normal for children to live normal, active lives after the transplant is finished.
After COVID dies down, Haley plans to do even more with outreach in the community. There are several events that she plans to host to get the word out about CHD and HLHS. “I want to do a street dance here in Peculiar. I want street vendors and booths. I really want to spread the word about congenital heart defects as much as possible.” Haley Said.
As hard as it is to watch a child go through all that Ryker has, in his nearly three years of life, Haley did have a message for parents with similar experiences: “It may feel like everything is falling apart at the time, but I would not be who I am today without Ryker and what he’s gone through. You just have to stay positive, and remember that there is good that comes out of it.”
Patrons can visit This Little Heart of Mine and Hello Darlin’ on the main strip of Peculiar. They are located at 213 North Main Street, and are open Tuesday through Friday, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., and Saturdays, until 3:00 p.m.