Former Kohl’s exec pledges $8 million to Children’s Hospital

Challenge gift to support research on congenital heart defects

Childrens Hospital
Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

The Herma Heart Center at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has received an $8 million challenge gift from former Kohl’s Corp. executive and board member John Herma and his wife Susan.

Childrens Hospital
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

The Hermas will match up to $8 million in gifts designated to the Children’s Hospital heart program through Dec. 30.

Money from the challenge gift will be used to support research and clinical innovation with a focus on congenital heart conditions and programs to improve quality of life for heart patients, according to Maryanne Kessel, the former executive director of the Herma Heart Center who now works on fundraising for the center.

Kessel began her career as a pediatric nurse and was on the team that helped treat the Herma’s daughter Leigh in the 1980s.

“I was a nurse in the cardiac department at the time and still remember standing over Leigh’s bed as doctors described how serious her condition was to her mom and dad,” Kessel said.

Leigh Herma was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where several structures on the left side of the heart form incorrectly. At the time nearly 90 percent of patients with the condition didn’t survive and Leigh passed away before reaching 3 months of age. By 2001, all of the patients who had surgery for the condition at Children’s were able to go home.

Kessel said the Hermas were inspired by the care their daughter received and wanted to improve patient outcomes for other families in the same situation. Their first gift was a rocking chair and they have since made multimillion gifts that allowed for the creation of the Herma Heart Center.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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