Benefit Dinner Planned for Child in Need of Heart Transplant

By Lura Jackson


When a family member is in need of a new heart, there aren’t many things that can make the situation better aside from receiving a transplant. What does help – according to the family of 9-year old Donavin Clark – is support from the community, and that is exactly what they have found after relocating to Eastport from Florida. A spaghetti dinner and benefit auction featuring items from the extended community is now scheduled to be held on April 21st, and everyone is invited to come. 

Donavin was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, a rare disorder in which the left side of the heart is underdeveloped, thus affecting the proper flow of blood. After multiple surgeries, he has only single-ventricle circulation. As a result of complete heart block, he now depends on a pacemaker to keep his heart functioning. Donavin is now listed as 1A, or highest urgency, to receive a heart, although based on his antibodies doctors have a 60 percent chance of rejecting potential hearts due to incompatibility with his immune system. 

Donavin, his parents, and his four siblings recently moved to Eastport when it became clear that it was becoming too dangerous to remain in Florida where hurricanes such as Irma can cause interruptions in electricity supply. Donavin’s grandparents and cousins live in Eastport and were very glad to be able to offer the support of their family members. 

The transition has been eye-opening in many ways for the family, as Donavin’s mother, Kristy Tidwell, shares. “I have spent my whole life growing up in a big city in Florida,” Tidwell explained. “Where I’m from, there are so many kids in the school the teachers and principal never recognized my face, or sometimes my child’s face that attends there for that matter. No one takes time to know their neighbors next door, not even their names.” In addition to the lack of social support, Tidwell and her husband began to struggle financially when she had to stay with Donavin at the hospital and he had to come home to watch their other children. 

Since arriving in Eastport – where they have “tons of family” – the experience has been entirely different. “When we got here, we couldn’t believe how much better and easier life truly got,” Tidwell said. She took a job at R&M IGA and was comforted knowing that her children were under safe watch. Tidwell adds that the response from the community has been a sharp contrast to living in the city in Florida. “Everyone makes it a point to remember people’s names and faces,” she said. The small-town environment has been very beneficial for Donavin’s siblings, who are able to enjoy a kind of freedom they didn’t know in the city. “My kids are always wanting to go somewhere around the town, and I can allow them that now because out here, someone always knows where and what your kiddos are doing.”

When it became necessary for Tidwell to stay at the Children’s Hospital in Boston with Donavin, the family’s fortunes were once again affected. She had to leave her job, making the only income in the home that of her husband, who works for UPS in Baileyville. The extended community came forward to offer its support. “The way neighbors, families, co-workers, bosses, friends, and even acquaintances have come together to help with raising money so me and my son can wait in the hospital comfortably without worries of bills or how often my kids can come visit us until a heart is ready for him is unbelievable,” Tidwell said. “I am so truly amazed and thankful so many care and want to help in any way possible! It’s a feeling that will honestly humble someone. Where I’m from, it’s pretty much ‘get it done’ but here it’s ‘let’s pull together and get it done.’ Being in a tight-knit community is the most drastic change I’ve had in my whole life and I tell everyone it’s the best.”

For Donavin’s cousin Shelly Warren, an Eastport native, seeing the community in action has been a joy. “Our small community makes it easy to have extended family. Everywhere we go, we see someone that asks about Donavin, and it’s so nice to know that everywhere we go we have support, which is exactly what we as a family need right now,” Warren said. “I’ve never been so proud to be an Eastporter.”

The benefit auction – which will be held at Eastport Elementary School on April 21st from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., with dinner being served at 4:00 p.m. – will include items such as jewelry, a painting by Lora Whelan, bikes, and gift sets from local shops. Perhaps the biggest ticket item is a round-trip American Airlines ticket to anywhere in the continental United States, courtesy of BGS Marine Sales, a Florida-based boating company. There are some conditions to the ticket – such as the winner will need to pay taxes and for their bags, and allow for 22 days in advance for round-trip scheduling – but for the most part it represents an excellent opportunity for traveling. 

If you would like to contact the family to make donations to the auction, or with any questions, please call Shelly at 214-4435. Any donations will be gladly accepted.