‘Heart for a Hero’ benefit to pay it forward


Courtesy photo
River Harbin of Otwell recently had heart transplant surgery. Despite all of the challenges the 4-year-old has faced, his spirits have remained high and he's continued to fight.

OTWELL — Since River Harbin came into the world, he has been a fighter.

The ornery, loving prankster has battled through more in the first four years of his life than most do in a lifetime. River recently returned to Otwell from a heart transplant surgery at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, and this weekend, his family will host a three-day benefit with the majority of the dollars raised going to families with children who are facing similar challenges.

“There’s normally 10 [pediatric] transplant patients at Riley each year,” River’s mother, Brittany Harbin, said in a Wednesday phone interview. “So, we want to divide whatever money that’s raised and be able to help those families out throughout the year.”

The benefit is named “Heart for a Hero,” and it will take place at various Winslow locations from Friday evening through early Sunday morning. A total of 16 bands from across Southern Indiana will perform at the Lugnutz Bar & Grill throughout the weekend for the benefit, and a softball tournament will be hosted by the Winslow Sports League on Friday and Saturday.

Inflatables will be set up for the kids at the tournament, and auction items, a half pot, shirts and more will be available at Lugnutz.

Brittany explained that over the past six months, the Pike County community has helped her family tremendously. This weekend’s benefit is their big way to pay it forward and lend a hand to other families that aren’t as fortunate.

Doctors told Brittany and her husband, Zach, that their son had just an 18% chance of surviving birth. Thirty-four weeks into Brittany’s pregnancy, River was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy. In non-medical terms, his heart was too big.

Courtesy photo
River Harbin with his mom, Brittany; dad, Zach; and brothers, Ryker, Reece and Rexton.

The organ was so enlarged in River’s body that it took up his entire chest cavity and was pressed onto his lungs. A world-renowned cardiologist told Brittany he’d only seen five cases like River’s.

None of them survived. Statistically, River shouldn’t have, either.

“They prepared us for at birth, he’d probably come out blue and unresponsive,” Brittany recalled.

But when River was born, he came into the world pink and screaming. From the second he was born, the Harbins knew their son would fight.

River has visited Riley frequently throughout his short life for checkups, treatment and other procedures. The road leading to today has been filled with adversity.

He had open-heart surgery when he was just a week old. He suffered a massive stroke before Christmas 2018. During the holiday season, River endured a brain bleed, kidney failure, collapsed lungs and many other complications.

But he’s still here. And he’s still fighting.

Courtesy photo
River and his parents on the day he left Riley Hospital for Children following his heart transplant.

Brittany said that God and all of River’s prayer warriors, as she affectionately calls them, have helped him get to where he is today.

“I believe that the power of prayer has kept my son alive,” she said.

River received his new heart in late May, and he’s now happy to be home and out of the hospital. The Harbins returned to a welcoming parade in Otwell when he made that journey back — just one of many ways the community has wrapped their arms around the pint-sized warrior and lifted him up.

“Even at his sickest times, you could just tell that he was just so full of life and drive,” Brittany said. “He’s very caring and loving, and he’s just amazing all the way around. He’s one of those kids that, he walks in a room, and he just captivates you.”

He knows his life has been harder than his peers’. Brittany said River is very bright, adding that he carries an old soul. Still, he finds happiness in the little things in life, like playing outside in the sun on his four-wheeler.

Brittany and Zach also have three other children: Ryker, 6; and twins Reece and Rexton, who are 10 months old.

A full schedule of the benefit’s events can be found on a Facebook page called River Harbin’s Prayer Warriors. Those who cannot attend the event but would like to help can message that page, or drop off a donation at any Home Building Savings Bank location.

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