Becky Fox Ortyl, was the Missouri Young Mother of the Year in 2013. Becky, and her husband, Greg, have three beautiful children. Isla (8) and Esme (3) share their home in Webster Groves, and Oakes (6) passed away at 15 months from complications of a rare congenital heart defect. While Oakes lived in the hearts of his loving family, he spent almost all of his time at St. Louis Childre’s Hospital in the CICU. Although he was never able to utter a sound (following a trachea repair during the first month of his life) he had an amazing spirit that spoke to everyone who spent time with him in the hospital. And thousands of others who never knew him, but whose lives have been affected by him through his parents’ blog and Foundation. Although the early months and years after Oakes died were bitterly difficult, Becky and Greg found the energy and strength to reach out to hundreds of other families through the love they continue to feel for and from their mighty little son.
They founded a non-profit organization, The Mighty Oakes Heart Foundation (MOHF). One of the primary goals of MOHF is to take care of everyday life stresses so that families with heart babies can devote all of their energies to loving and supporting their children. Through MOHF, Becky purchased comfortable stools for the CICU rooms, so that family members could sit close to their child who was sleeping in an elevated crib. She bought mattress vibrators, mobiles, boppies, and floor mats, to help families comfort and play with their sick children. Every year on Oakes’ birthday a team of MOHF supporters hauls boxes of new supplies up to the CICU to replenish what has used with love during the past year.
MOHF has helped families pay for car repairs, when they live states away and have to drive back and forth to the hospital to visit their baby. They have purchased new refrigerators for babies who go home and need their life-saving medications refrigerated. They have paid for hotel stays, and special dinners for families who have been living at their child’s bedside for weeks, or months. Becky has taken moms out for manicures, or a massage just to give them a break. MOHF has covered mortgage payments for families where parents have quit their jobs to be at the hospital full-time to soothe and love their baby.
Last year a heart family in another state wanted to bring their child to St. Louis to visit extended family. They needed some help to make this happen. Becky posted a plea on her Face Book page, asking if any of her friends and MOHF followers had any special passes, Cardinal game tickets, gift cards, etc. to offer them. The family ended up with more weekend options than they could possibly use, and full hearts knowing that so many others wanted to make their trip so special.
Greg and Becky, along with Jen and Mark Hinkle (who also lost their son, Ollie, to a congenital heart defect) opened a restaurant in Webster Groves named Olive + Oak, dedicated to their sons. “It’s a way of keeping the names alive and to continue to raise awareness,” Mark Hinkle said in an interview. Becky’s was a primary influence in creating the ambiance in the dining room, and her heart motif is subtle, yet present. The restaurant has been open for over a year and a half now, and it is difficult to get reservations.
For the past several years Becky has gotten MOHF involved in Camp Rhythm, a summer camp for children with congenital heart defects. Most of them are children who have had treatment and are now healthy and active, but also have chest scars (from heart surgeries) and are required to take strong medications daily. It’s a camp that would not restrict their attendance due to medical history. One of the campers said it was a relief to come to a camp where everyone else had a scar like hers. MOHF has provided many of the creative, art activities for the campers, a fun, Fish-Eye Photography booth, and cupcake and ice cream trucks for afternoon treats.
When Oakes passed away, Becky and her sisters wrapped red ribbons around the trees in her, and their neighbors’ yards. Within hours, many who knew her also tied their trees with red ribbons. On the morning of Oakes funeral service I stood looking out her front window and noticed a red ribbon on the telephone pole across the street. I looked in both directions and saw more. As we drove to the church that morning, on pole after pole, we saw more and more red ribbons right up to the church. What a beautiful and thoughtful outpouring of love from her community! As the ribbons frayed and faded, MOHF began to sell wooden hearts, of all shapes (every heart is perfect) and sizes, through their fundraisers. Now, when you drive through Webster Groves you will see red hearts everywhere.
Through the years since Oakes’ death, Becky has strongly felt Oakes’ presence, and so do Greg, Isla, and Esme. Oakes shows up in acorns and hearts, everywhere. When they are quietly sitting outside, and acorn will drop right in the middle of them. When Becky’s heart is heavy, he shows up in a heart-shaped crack in the cement, a hear-shaped leaf, cloud, or jelly smear on Esme’s face. Becky often posts these images on her Face Book page, and friends post back heart-shaped images that they find. It seems that not a day goes by that Oaksie doesn’t show up and bring a smile (and maybe a tear) to this sweet, young mother whose love for her son never wavers.
Connie Fox Moore, a 2012 National Mother of Achievement Award recipient, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Oklahoma. She is also Becky’s mother and Oakes grandmother. You can meet more inspirational women like Becky and Connie, by JOINING our network of incredible moms across the country.