How adversity built character for our campaign chair

Our personal experiences can often influence our perspective on life and the way we view things. For Scott Hartwig, St. Louis Market Executive and Commercial Banking Leader for Regions Bank who is serving as United Way’s 2023 campaign co-chair, a near fatal heart defect his son was born with strengthened his belief in the values of faith, family and lending a helping hand to those in need.

“An experience like this definitely changes you and changes your perspective,” said Scott. “When you go through something like this, it definitely changes your perspective on what really matters. You hear people say, ‘Family before work and God before family’ all the time, but when you go through something like this, you really realize that statement is true.”

Spirit of strength

On August 28, 1997, Scott’s wife, Trish, gave birth to their second child, Zach. Shortly after Zach was born, they began to suspect something was wrong. Doctors rushed Zach to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) where they performed several tests. Afterwards, Trish and Scott were told that Zach had a rare heart condition called Tetralogy of Fallot which is caused by a combination of several heart defects that are present at birth.

Tetralogy of Fallot causes oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart and into the rest of the body. They were initially told the condition Zach had wasn’t that serious, but once Trish and Scott took him home, his condition deteriorated.

By using a heart monitor at home, they could keep a close eye on Zach’s condition. Except, 13 weeks into Zach’s life, his oxygen levels became dangerously low and they were forced to take him back to the hospital. The only option was for doctors to perform surgeries to increase his oxygen levels. For the next several months Trish, Scott and Zach were in and out of the hospital trying to save Zach’s life.

As doctors continued to monitor Zach, they discovered something else was wrong. Zach also suffered from a condition called Severe Pulmonary Stenosis which forces the right side of the heart to increase its workload, putting a strain on the heart muscle that could eventually lead to severe damage. This whole process began to take a huge toll on Scott and his family, but his faith and love for his son gave him the strength to keep going.

“I am a man of faith and I believe in God and his saving grace, and I think this whole experience brought us closer to that,” said Scott. “God put different people and institutions in front of us to help us and so as we were walking this path that we were on; we could see God’s work in all of our lives.”

After months of treatment, Scott began to grow restless, he was determined to find a long-term solution to his son’s heart and lung issues, even if he had to travel to find it.

“One day I remember telling Trish that I didn’t feel comfortable sitting around waiting for something bad to happen, we needed to do something differently,” said Scott. “So, we agreed to start doing some research nationally for any doctors that have seen Zach’s condition in other infants that could help him or give us some ideas on what to do.”

After visiting several different states trying to find answers, they finally found a doctor in Boston that was able to carefully study Zach’s medical records and determine the best way to treat him and preserve his long-term health. The doctor performed a precise, sophisticated, life-saving surgery on him to strengthen his heart, arteries, and lungs, giving him the opportunity to begin his long-term recovery process.

Scott and Trish were relieved to have finally found someone who could provide Zach with the proper treatment he needed. The imminent fear of losing their son was gone. Though soon after the relief, Scott began to reflect on the months he and his family spent in hospitals and seeing other families endure the same grief he and Trish experienced and was compelled to find a way to help.

A heart to give and serve

Scott realized a lot of families may not have the same means and resources as his family to seek specialized medical care and he wanted to find a way to make a difference.

United Way provided Scott with a unique opportunity; he discovered by giving through his employer to United Way’s annual community campaign he could have an impact on families across St. Louis. Scott made his first donation in 1990 and has continued to increase his support and involvement.

Today, as United Way’s campaign co-chair, Scott is sharing his personal story of why he became involved and encouraging others to unite with us to help our neighbors in need.

There is no substitute for seeing our impact in person. Several visits to some of United Way’s safety net of nonprofit partner agencies showed Scott firsthand how United Way works together with them to use a wraparound approach to take on some of our region’s most pressing needs and ensure our neighbors’ long-term well-being.

“We can always solve a crisis for a day – if a person’s homeless, give them shelter, if a person’s hungry, give them food, but if we don’t find out about the root causes of their problems, it’s just going to be a repeat cycle,” said Scott. “Seeing how the organizations and United Way are attempting to find out that root cause and then refer that person to services that can help them with overcoming those root causes is what they need. People need help not only for the crisis they’re in, but help to get them out of that crisis and back on the right track and that’s what I saw when I visited these different agencies.”

United Way continuously builds relationships with local companies, individuals, unions, and foundations throughout the year. Our annual community campaign gives us the opportunity to bring them together to help make a collective impact on the communities we serve.

As someone who has been a banking and corporate professional for over 30 years, Scott said it is especially important for local corporations to contribute to United Way during our campaign season and beyond because they are often beneficiaries of the communities they are helping us support.

“From a corporation perspective, their businesses thrive and grow from a strong community and so it is up to us to invest back into the community that we are benefitting from,” said Scott. “In my visits with CEOS of local companies, all of them have been 100% supportive of United Way and passionate about continuing to support them because they see the importance of giving back to the community and being a part of the efforts to build a stronger St. Louis region.”

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Rodney Humphries
Rodney Humphries

Rodney Humphries is the Communications Specialist for United Way of Greater St. Louis and a proud graduate of Webster University where he developed his passion for writing. In college, he combined his love for writing and sports, serving as the primary sports writer for his school newspaper while also developing his own sports blog. After graduating, he continued his love for writing as he served as a freelance writer for various publications. Rodney continues to be a fan of Webster athletics, you will often see him sitting courtside at a lot of their basketball games.