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WAYNE — Community members are rallying around a Wayne County family awaiting a heart transplant for a 3-month-old child, and so far, more than $20,000 has been raised.

Steele Merritt, the son of Jennifer and Seth Merritt, was born Sept. 28, 2021, and has spent his entire life at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio due to heart complications.

His mother, Jennifer Merritt, said soon after he was born, a GoFundMe was started to help support the family financially in paying for treatment at the hospital and to help while Steele’s parents are out of work.

“I always knew that Wayne County was full of good people, but going through this has just proven it even more,” she said. “The support that we have received from everyone has been amazing and we’re so grateful.”

At around 19 weeks of Jennifer’s pregnancy, baby Merritt was suspected and confirmed to have a heart defect; however, even knowing that — the family was unaware of the complications that would come later.

A few weeks after he was born, baby Merritt suffered the equivalent of a heart attack in a newborn, Jennifer Merritt said, and it caused one portion of his heart to die.

Now, the family is waiting for a heart transplant, which could take anywhere between six months and more than one year to receive, Jennifer Merritt said.

With the hardships the family has faced, including splitting time and taking turns with her husband traveling back and forth to Cincinnati to be with Steele and staying home with their other three children, Jennifer Merritt said it has been a blessing to have so many people willing to help out.

“It’s just amazing to know that we live in the community that we do and people are as helpful as they are,” she said. “We truly appreciate everything everyone has done and has offered to do, not just financially.”

Brenda Napier, a Wayne County resident who has known Jennifer and Seth Merritt since they were young children, started the fundraiser to support the family.

She said Wayne County is a community full of helpful and caring individuals, and it was no surprise to her that they came together to help out.

With donations varying from $20 to one donation of $5,000 from newly appointed Marshall University President Brad Smith, Napier said she could not believe the reach that the fundraiser has had.

“I expected a lot of local support because we live in such a tight knit community and we all love each other,” Napier said. “But, when we shared the post, everybody started sharing it and it just went all over the United States, from California and Hawaii and Florida and everywhere in between.”

Napier said people from 12 states have donated so far, and she is amazed by the kindness from both community members and strangers.

Anyone interested in donating can do so at the GoFundMe titled “Wayne County for Warrior Steele” at the following address: https://www.gofundme.com/f/support-heart-warrior-steele-merritt

Sarah Ingram is a reporter for HD Media, covering Wayne County. Follow her on Twitter @IngramWCn.

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