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Hiliary Chisholm

Paying it forward

Luan Knoll; Hiliary & Andrew Chisholm; children Hudson & Ella and Dr. Benjamin JohnsonCentraCare Health Foundation Senior Development Officer
Luan Knoll; Hiliary & Andrew Chisholm; children, Hudson
& Ella; and Cardiologist Benjamin Johnson, MD.

Being a young heart patient, Hiliary Chisholm learned very quickly that having a heart condition at her age was not the “norm.”

“I would wait in waiting rooms with people over the age 70 and 80, and I never felt like I fit in,” she said.

Hiliary was first diagnosed with heart failure when she was 5 years old and had her first pacemaker implanted at age 5, at Abbott Northwestern, under the care of Dr. Ann Dunnigan. But when Dr. Dunnigan transferred from Abbott to St. Cloud Hospital, Hiliary followed because she loved and trusted her care. For more than 20 years, Hiliary made the trip from the Fargo-Moorhead area to see Dr. Dunnigan until she retired.

“I loved everything about being there!” said Hiliary, now 31 years old.

Now married and a mom of two, Hiliary wanted to give back to other pediatric heart patients and, at the same time, inspire them.

“One thing I try to do in my life is let others know that we have no limitations. When you’re diagnosed with a heart condition, you are always told to ‘take it easy’ or ‘stay away from those things.’ I have never been the kind of person to sit back and watch; I am the person to take on great challenges and persist until I overcome.”

So instead of taking it easy, Hiliary took on a triathlon.

“I thought to myself, ‘What better way to show other kids with heart conditions that they can do more, than to challenge myself and race in a triathlon!’” she said.

On race day, Hiliary wore a shirt that said “I Have Congenital Heart Failure. What’s Your Excuse?’ With a pacemaker in her chest, she swam ½ mile, biked 12.5 miles and then ran 3.1 miles — all in an hour and 45 minutes.

“I pushed myself to show others, especially the younger children going through this, that all things are possible, and even though we have a pacemaker doesn't mean we should be limited!” she said.

Leading up to the race, Hiliary shared her story about heart failure and asked friends and family to donate money so she could buy toys and comfort items for pediatric heart patients at the CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center.

Along with her family, Hiliary brought more than 150 toys, dolls, stuffed animals, markers and games.

“I wanted to bring that comfort and SO MUCH MORE to other children, in hopes they don’t have to feel the way I did back when I was going through everything at a young age,” she said.

While inspiring pediatric heart patients with her persistence, she also hopes to inspire others to give back. If you would like to make a donation to the CentraCare Heart & Vascular Center, please visit or call 320-240-2810.