Susan Echols ’97, M ’04 and Jason Smith

Smith  Twins

Life-changing to lifesaving

We’ve all experienced moments when we were inspired to make a difference in others’ lives or pass on kindnesses experienced. Few have embraced a life-changing moment as Susan and Jason Smith of Clemson.

In April 2011, the Smiths’ daughter, Emerson Rose, was born at the Medical University of South Carolina with a heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. A mid-pregnancy ultrasound had detected a heart abnormality, so the Smiths made arrangements for her delivery at MUSC, where she could have open heart surgery shortly after birth. The surgery went well, but little Emerson Rose passed away of complications at only 76 days old.

Out of the sadness and pain of this experience, Susan and Jason founded the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation™. They say their faith is helping them turn a devastating loss into a lifesaver. The mission of the foundation is to help babies born with congenital heart defects through supporting research efforts focused on innovative methods of treatment, prevention and diagnosis. It also lends support to parents while they are preparing for and caring for a child with a congenital heart defect. With these combined efforts, they hope to make a difference in the awareness of heart defects.

The foundation is now working on several quality improvement projects at MUSC ranging from a $2,000 project to reduce infection rates to an $80,000 information sharing collaborative with 20 other pediatric heart centers across the U.S. The foundation also has funded pulse oximeter equipment to 17 hospitals across the state to begin screening newborns for potential heart defects.

Probably the most lasting legacy is the Emerson Rose Act, a new S.C. law requiring hospitals to test every newborn for heart defects before they are discharged from the hospital. The Smiths and the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation worked alongside Sen. Thomas Alexander ’78 to help the act receive unanimous approval in the legislature.

“The foundation’s goals continue to be helping babies affected by heart defects in South Carolina and expand to other states. We are beginning to bring children with heart defects to the U.S. from Third World countries to have lifesaving heart surgery,” shares Susan.

The foundation receives funds from golf tournaments, fundraisers and even Dabo’s All In Foundation, an organization started by Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney and his wife, Kathleen.

After Emerson Rose died, the couple decided to go through the adoption process, and then Susan became pregnant. Along with foundation activities, the Smiths stay busy with two baby girls, Rowan Sarah, one year, and Campbell Jane, seven months.

For information on the Emerson Rose Heart Foundation visit

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