Lisa Penninga and her son, Lincoln, have gone through many hardships and were honored at GVSU fundraiser


English teacher Lisa Penninga and her son Lincoln have been on an amazing journey in the last few years. Lincoln has had a heart defect since birth, resulting in numerous medical issues.

When he was as young as three weeks old, he spent a total of about forty days in the hospital because of his life-altering heart defect. This amazing and tough journey that Penninga and Lincoln have been on resulted in their invitation to Grand Valley State University’s Dance-A-Thon. The dance-a-thon was from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m at Helen Devos. At the fundraiser, Penninga shared her testimonies with those at the event.

This fundraiser that GVSU hosts raises money to go to Helen Devos and the families that, like Lincoln, have had to stay in the hospital for a long stretch of time.

“The money goes to research and families,” Penninga said, “but a lot of the programs in the hospital are self-funded, so even just having toys to give to kids when they get a blood-poke help make it easier. That’s Lincoln’s favorite part- getting a prize when he’s there. So, it’s nice to have those things to make it a positive experience for kids.”

For the event, Penninga was asked to give a presentation so that she could share her amazing journey with Helen Devos, and in her presentation, Penninga showed a variety of pictures of Lincoln, recounting his time in the hospital and his remarkable growth.

All of the people that have been a part of Lincoln’s journey, like the hospital staff, have made the time in Helen Devos easier and more comfortable for both Penninga and Lincoln. Had she gone somewhere else, it could have changed her whole life and especially her son’s.

“We debated going to University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital or Helen Devos,” Penninga said. “Helen Devos is smaller and more cohesive, as it’s close, and the people have his best interest at heart, like how he’s going to grow and what’s going to be best for him, rather than “let’s do this medically.a�� So, Helen Devos thinks of him as a whole person and not just research.”

Going through this tough experience has taught Penninga so many things that are nearly impossible to learn any other way.

“I think it has taught me to rely on other people,” Penninga said, “because I like to do everything myself, and I learned that I really can’t. It has been really good to have relied on others, like volunteers. They will come in and help when he gets blood drawn and distract him, and I have to trust a surgeon with his life; [the staff] is like an extended family, and I know they have his best interests at heart.”

The relationships built with the staff and volunteers is something that is very important when dealing with impossibly tough situations. Penninga had no idea what the outcome would be with each of her son’s surgeries, and without the close relationship with those at the hospital, the results could have been life changing, for her, her family, and Lincoln.

“We have established really good relationships with the doctors and nurses,” Penninga said. “They treat us like family, and I rely on them to make life-altering decisions.”

The journey she and her family have been on was by no means easy, but she has taken the best outlook on it possible. She learned from it, and continues to learn from it, and is looking at the positive in the situation and how it’s helped her. She is very deserving of being honored with the hospital at the Grand Valley Dance-A-Thon, along with the other families that have gone through similar situations.

“[The situation] has mostly been good and has taught me that life is short,” Penninga said. “You never know what tomorrow is going to bring, so live in the moment of today and make the best of today. It has also taught me true perseverance and true inner strength of how to get through those tough moments you don’t think that you’ll make it through.”