Lenny Merriman carries a message of hope in his heart and delivers it through an organization initiated after the death of his 17-year-old son. When DJ was 17 months old medical problems were detected and doctors told Merriman that a virus had attacked the infant's heart. Later, the virus went dormant and a pacemaker was implanted. For the most part DJ's life continued normally.
He attended Madison High School and his welcoming approach to new students earned him an unofficial title of "ambassador" at the school. Among the young man's future hopes was to pursue a career as a cardiologist.
On the Saturday prior to his death, DJ noticed an elderly woman standing in the checkout line in front of him at a Giant Eagle store. The woman didn't have enough money to pay for her groceries and in a typical generous gesture he provided the lacking funds. "That's just the way he was," Merriman said. "He touched a lot of people and it's kind of nice to see friends still posting on his Facebook page. He was a very unique child to say the least. He never gave us any problems."
Some months before DJ's death he began to feel something wrong happening within his body. "He'd get these little episodes - sweaty, clammy and he said he felt his heart racing. From the pacemaker it didn't show anything," Merriman said. Several diagnoses attributed his uneasiness to panic attacks and anxiety. "That's how they wrote it off and we accepted that," Merriman said.
But when he went to sleep on a night last January, he never woke up. "His heart exploded in his sleep. It was extremely large. The virus woke up and it just did what it did," Merriman said. The coroner told Merriman that the condition is usually revealed through symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, or coughing. DJ showed none of those.
After his death, friends sold wrist bands and T-shirts and collected donations to pay for the funeral. Leftover funds were donated to churches and hospitals. Inspired by the selfless act, Merriman said "We're going to keep it going. It helped us get through the whole thing, if anything really does."
Thus, in DJ's memory and in hopes of helping others, Merriman and other family members founded Hope 4 Hearts.
"There's no way of getting reimbursed for parking, food, daycare and expenses (incurred while dealing with illness) most people don't think about. That's where we're trying to pick up for the families"
- Len Merriman
A short story of who we are and the great kid who inspired us to keep giving just as he did in his life.