As the 1-year-old boy covered in red icing dug his chubby hands into the little Mickey Mouse cake, the roomful of adults and children at Berea’s Church on the Rock activity building burst into laughter and “ahhhhs.”
Jaxon’s parents, Richmond residents Shannon and Miranda Russell, beamed Saturday while they watched their little boy stuff the “smash cake” into his mouth by the fistful.
A child’s first birthday is a milestone for any family, but Jaxon’s big day was even more special because when he was born Sept. 26, 2012, doctors didn’t know if he’d survive the night.
Jaxon was born with a congenital heart defect, and he had his first procedure, a heart catheter, at two days old. He had surgery at six days old, and another open-heart surgery was performed in February.
The highlight of Saturday’s birthday party was a three-tier Mickey Mouse cake donated by Berea-caterer Meghan Smith through a program called Icing Smiles.
The nonprofit organization is dedicated to “baking a difference,” according to the group’s Kentucky representative, Tiffany Hamblin.
Icing Smiles delivered its first cake in January 2010, and the first cake was presented to a critically ill Kentucky child in September 2010.
“Our goal is to provide a temporary escape and a lasting positive memory for families dealing with the critical illness of a child,” Hamblin said.
The nonprofit provides an opportunity for local bakers to “experience the joy of giving through their talent and to form a meaningful connection with a special family through service,” Hamblin said.
The group now has 4,000 “Sugar Angels” who donate custom cakes nationwide.
Smith is 16 years old and has been running her own catering service, Doodlebug Cakes, for two years. She said this was her third donated Icing Smiles cake.
“I thought the program was really neat,” Smith said while attending Jaxon’s party. “This is my own little way of making kids smile.”
Jaxon’s father said Mickey Mouse was one of his son’s favorite characters. Any time Jaxon had to go through a procedure or test at the hospital, the Russells would turn a Mickey Mouse TV show on to distract him.
“He’d always light up,” Shannon Russell said.
The Russells also have found a way to make a difference for other families who have children with heart problems. They founded Lil’ Heart Sluggers last year in Jaxon’s honor.
In an effort to provide emotional and spiritual support to families going through similar circumstances, Lil’ Heart Sluggers distributes free “Slugger Packs.”
The pack contains a baseball, a baseball case, an ink pad, a mini Louisville Slugger bat and a Lil’ Silver Slugger Award “which is given to the toughest and bravest Lil Sluggers after their surgeries,” according to the Russells’ website.
“When we were in the hospital, we used an idea from Pinterest (photo-sharing website) which was putting Jaxon’s hand print on a baseball,” The Russells relate on the website. “For five minutes we were not thinking of the situation, instead we were actually enjoying a normal baby thing with our baby. Instantly that baseball became one of my most prized possessions, and since then God has put it on my heart to share this priceless gift with others.”
Lil’ Heart Sluggers has assisted families through money raised from silent auctions, and the nonprofit plans on providing meal tickets and parking passes to those whose babies must have a longer hospital stay.
Sarah Hogsed can be reached at email@example.com or 624-6694.
For more information on how to request a donated cake or volunteer as a baker, visit www.icingsmiles.org.
To find out more on how you can help children with serious heart problems, visit Lil’ Heart Sluggers at www.lilheartsluggers.org.
Both nonprofit charities also have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.