Jill Linko is waiting for a new heart

Jill Linko sits with her husband, Robert, and daughters Abby and Hailey at the Hot Rod Poker Run on Saturday, at the Milesburg American Legion Grounds. This year’s event will benefit Jill, who is on a heart transplant list.
Jill Linko sits with her husband, Robert, and daughters Abby and Hailey at the Hot Rod Poker Run on Saturday, at the Milesburg American Legion Grounds. This year’s event will benefit Jill, who is on a heart transplant list.

For Jill Linko, much of her recent life has been a waiting game.

The married mother of two was diagnosed Sept. 22 with postpartum cardiomyopathy two days before giving birth to daughter Hailey in an emergency cesarean section.

Postpartum cardiomyopathy is the deterioration of heart function presented in the late stages of pregnancy.

Linko said she knew something was wrong when she woke up with shortness of breath at 5 a.m. the day she was admitted to Mount Nittany Medical Center.

When symptoms got worse, her doctor recommended she go to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, where she was back and forth for more than a month.

She underwent treatment and is on medication to help her heart function, but doctors said she’ll need a heart transplant.

It’s something doctors told her they’re certain will happen, but when, however, is a guessing game.

“There’s no way to know, and they told me that,” Linko said. “I guess it’s just waiting for the doctors to call. It could be tomorrow for all I know, it could be months from now, but we’re believers in God and believe he’s using this for good. I’m not happy about it, but doing the surgery, when the time comes, isn’t something I’m nervous about either.”

Linko is classified as Status 2 on the heart transplant list despite setting off a trigger to her heart defibrillator three times in less than a year.

The biggest challenge, she said, is making sure her daughters, Abby, 2, and Hailey, 10 months, know she’s still there for them.

“Even now, it’s hard to do daily activities because I get tired fast, I get out of breath and lightheaded,” Linko said. “It breaks my heart not to do some things like read a book to them without getting so out of breath. They’re too little to know what’s going on, and when I’m out for a couple weeks, I’m most afraid they’ll think I abandoned them.”

The procedure from the start of evaluation to the transplant and recovery could cost about $1.2 million.

To help offset some of those costs, a group of community members and business leaders spearheaded by Jim and Teri Holsinger, of Holsingers Automotive Repair, threw a fundraiser in Linko’s benefit.

The Hot Rod Poker Run held at the Milesburg American Legion Grounds is something they do every year for someone in need.

Teri Holsinger said the idea was sparked two years ago with inspiration from her nephew Colton Stauffer, who was born with birth defects.

When combined with the Holsinger’s love of vehicles, they, with the help of community members and business leaders, started the event.

“We have a hot rod — a 1949 Plymouth business coupe — that he (Jim) really geared to go fast, and we can put it in car shows, but just sitting there waiting to get judged is nice, but can get boring,” Holsinger said. “This was a way to make things fun, feature cars and motorcycles, and give back.”

In the first year, the event raised $3,000 to help pay for Colton’s treatment. Colton, who’s still seeking treatment, will be 3 next month.

Last year, the event raised $5,000 for a local girl fighting cancer. She died in May.

This year, the goal was to exceed last year’s fundraising total.

“We’re not sure we’ll get it because of the rain, but in the end, anything helps,” Holsinger said. “All of it, 100 percent of every dollar goes into the hands of the family. This is our biggest event ever.”

It included a 50/50 raffle, silent auction, 21 food and craft vendors, a chicken barbecue and a poker run, which allowed drivers to stop at five checkpoints in the Lower Bald Eagle Valley and Nittany Valley regions.

The objective was to collect one card from each spot and accumulate the best set of cards in the end.

While the mission was to financially help Linko and her family, Linko said it’s also her mission to give back.

“I feel so blessed to live in a community like this, but I’ve said before that we’re big believers in God and believe this happened for a reason,” she said. “It’s my turn to spread awareness about this condition, and to get more people to become organ donors and blood donors.”

Linko, originally from Wilkes-Barre, moved to Pleasant Gap about 8 years ago with her husband, Robert.

A GoFundMe page was also set up by a captain Linko’s husband works with in the Pennsylvania National Guard.

As of Saturday night, $5,642 was donated. The goal is to reach $350,000.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo