Cameron Wannamaker wanted to honor a friend.
And in the process, she has been able to help raise about $600,000 to help children with congenital heart defects.
Wannamaker serves on the board of Hands for Hearts, which was founded in memory of Matt Sullivan, who had been a classmate of hers at Page High School, as well as husband Skotty’s best friend.
The nonprofit Hands for Hearts hosts an annual casino night to raise money for research into congenital heart defects, or CHD. The Triad-based organization has partnered with Duke Children’s Hospital in Durham and Camp Victory Junction in Randleman, to create a camp for kids who have CHD.
“We really want to be able to have interaction with those families, let them know they’re not going through this alone,” Wannamaker said. “Just the thought of being able to change the outcome for someone, to change lives, to make a difference, it’s just very humbling. But we can only make a difference if the community helps us make a difference.”
Wannamaker has also worked as a “wish granter” with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and has spearheaded some employee health initiatives at Quest Diagnostics, where she works as a senior communications specialist.
This year she was named the News & Record Rising Star.
“Cameron has always been a very driven individual,” said Jeff Fusaiotti, who co-founded Hands for Hearts. “Whatever she puts her mind to, she just goes full tilt, whether it’s sports, school, work. She’s constantly trying to get more people involved in our organization, get sponsorships, get the word out. She’s relentless.”
A mother of three, Wannamaker has long been involved in local charitable efforts. Her father, Jerry Clark, a Greensboro orthodontist, helped bring Make-A-Wish to North Carolina in 1985.
“When she became an adult, one of the first things she did was volunteer for the foundation,” Clark said. “She always had that desire to help people. If you want to get something done, you ask Cameron. She’s very organized.”
After graduating from Page High School in 1997, Wannamaker went to Appalachian State University, where she received a degree in advertising. In 2004, she got a job with what was then known as Spectrum Laboratory Network, which became Solstas, and was eventually bought by Quest. When the purchase happened in 2014, Wannamaker transitioned onto the company’s communications team.
At Quest, she got involved with the company’s Healthy Quest program, which gives employees guidance on wellness. This year, she helped create a new program to encourage healthy eating.
“We have a lot of great resources, but it’s just a matter of helping employees know what they are and how to access them,” she said.
In January 2014, Matt Sullivan died in a motorcycle accident. He was not married and had no kids, but he had a niece and a nephew that “he treated like his own children,” Wannamaker said.
“His nephew, who is about two months older than my oldest daughter, was born with a congenital heart defect,” she said. “We were wanting to find out a little bit more about that, and thinking maybe how we could help him. His mother said they had the support they needed, but that there was severe underfunding for the research.”
Soon after, Hands for Hearts was born. The name came from Sullivan’s love of card games, which also inspired the organization’s casino night fundraisers.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 40,000 children are born with CHD in the United States each year. That number represents about 1% of annual U.S. births.
About a quarter of those children have what’s known as a critical CHD, which typically requires surgery.
The condition is responsible for 4.2% of neonatal deaths in the U.S., according to the CDC.
Wannamaker said her oldest daughter had also been born with a CHD, in the form of a small hole in her heart, which ended up closing on its own.
“Fortunately, she didn’t have to have surgery or medications, but we did learn a lot about it,” she said. “There are so many who are suffering, and we wanted to support those families the best we could.”
Hands for Hearts is now funding a fellowship with Duke Children’s Hospital for those studying pediatric cardiology. The organization also hosts social events at Greensboro Grasshoppers and Swarm games for families who have children with CHD.
“So many times they might be in the hospital with their child being treated, but they don’t get a chance to sit and necessarily talk about what life is like,” Wannamaker said. “And this also gives them a chance to see their kids running around and interacting with other kids.”
Wannamaker said the organization’s leaders have discussed hosting a concert or a dodgeball tournament as a way of getting more people involved.
“Not everybody wants to come to a black-tie casino event,” she said. “So we want to do other events people can get behind. But, it’s been amazing to see the support from the community, people who want to help kids.”