Meet Rhett Herndon – A local CHD warrior

By Kathryn Durham

What is CHD? 
CHD stands for Congenital Heart Defect which are abnormalities in the heart that form before birth. According to the Mayo Clinic, congenital heart defects are one of the most common birth defects; on average, 1 in 110 babies are diagnosed with CHD in the United States alone. 

February is National Heart Month, and more specifically, February 7th-14th is Congenital Heart Defect awareness week. To make this week extra special, we are sharing the story of a local boy with CHD – a personal relative of one of our GGF team members. 

Meet Rhett Herndon! 
Rhett was born on May 30th, 2019 in INOVA Fairfax Women and Children’s Hospital in Virginia. His parents, Jordan and Scott Herndon, were informed of his condition at 19 weeks gestational age. Rhett was born with dextrocardia, a large inlet VSD, ASD, Pulmonary Atresia, L-TGA, and WPW.

Dextrocardia causes Rhett’s heart to be on the wrong side of his body. This condition does not just affect the heart; it can cause stress on other parts of the body, such as the lungs or other vital organs. Large inlet VSD and ASD are two types of holes in his heart, which can affect his overall growth. Pulmonary Atresia is when the heart valve that controls the blood flow to the lungs simply does not form, requiring prompt medical intervention. L-TGA (Levo-Transposition of the Great Arteries) is when the chambers at the bottom of the heart are swapped, causing issues with proper blood circulation and heart functions. WPW (Wolff–Parkinson–White syndrome) is a condition affecting the electrical system of the heart, meaning that for long periods of time, Rhett’s heart beats faster than normal. 

Rhett has undergone 3 open heart surgeries in his little life. His first heart surgery (BT Shunt) took place when he was only 12 days old on June 11, 2019, lasting 6 hours. His second open heart surgery lasted over 11 hours just a few months later in October 2019. His third and most recent open heart surgery was on September 14th, 2022, which lasted 6 hours.

Rhett spent 207 days of 2019 after his birth in various hospitals across Virginia. During this time, Rhett was consistently surrounded by his family and loved ones supporting his recovery. He encountered amazing hospital staff that became a second family for him. 

Currently, Rhett has a port that allows him to receive his medication at home, but that does not limit his very active 4-year-old body. His current obsession is all things trains, specifically the Polar Express. Rhett and his 6-year-old sister Raelynn enjoy playing tee ball on a team together! 

“He has adapted to every change and adventure that has been thrown at him, and there have been a lot of them!” said Jordan Herndon, Rhett’s mother. “He is one of the strongest little boys God has created. ”

Rhett currently keeps up with regular check ups to ensure everything is functioning as it should be. Right now he attends a Headstart Pre-K program that allows him to socialize with kids his own age, and prepare him for kindergarten in the fall! 

Rhett has overcome a number of battles in such a short amount of time so far. His story is an inspiration to other children and their families affected by CHD.

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Joel Griffin

Chairman & Co-Founder

Joel Griffin is co-founder and chairman of Gwyneth’s Gift Foundation. Gwyneth’s Gift was founded in 2015 by Joel and Jennifer Griffin in honor of their oldest daughter, Gwyneth. He is also an entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist with 25 years of private industry consulting experience and 20 years in government contracting. He is the Founder and CEO of Riphean, a regional growth management firm.

Joel is committed to philanthropy within the region through local nonprofits and organizations that strengthen local communities. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Fredericksburg Regional Alliance, Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce, Stafford Hospital Foundation, and Germanna Educational Foundation. Joel was recognized for his impact and leadership within the region, receiving the Prince B. Woodward Leadership Award in 2022.

In addition to the regional award, Joel received the Valor Award from Loudon County for his life-saving efforts in an emergency. He also received the Patriotic Civilian Service Award given by the U.S. Army for actions taken immediately and following 9/11 at The Pentagon in 2001.