Like many of your families, summer at the Coffeen household is filled with a few traditions, most of which include cow shows and county fairs. But every July, we all get cleaned up for one special event that doesn’t require white pants.

The annual Dairy Cares garden party is a fun-filled celebration where our northeastern Wisconsin dairy community comes together to raise funds for Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. In its eighth year, we’ve raised more than $1 million total and, in honor of that cumulative gift, the world-renowned hospital’s simulation lab now proudly showcases the Dairy Cares name.

The announcement of this news was certainly a highlight of this year’s party – but for me, it was not the most memorable part of the night. A special guest speaker touched my heart with the story of his own heart.

With a mop of blonde curls, mischievous blue eyes and freckles like Dennis the Menace, little Troy looked like any other 7-year-old boy. Given the option, he would probably have preferred to be barefoot and catching frogs in the pond over wearing a sport jacket and dress shoes, but he tolerated the look adorably well.

In front of more than 400 people, Troy took to the microphone to tell the story of his own experience at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.


When he was just 5 years old, his parents were faced with the type of news no one ever wants to hear. During a regular wellness visit, Troy’s doctor heard a click in his heart and referred him to the nationally ranked pediatric cardiac center at Children’s Hospital.

There, a specialist determined Troy had an atrial septal defect. In other words, he had a hole in his heart. He was scheduled for an operation with no time to waste. Only weeks before starting kindergarten, Troy underwent open-heart surgery to repair the hole. Now, two years later, this frightening moment is a mere memory, and one would never guess the vibrant child had undergone such a major procedure.

Some would say this brave boy has the heart of a lion, but Troy would be the first to correct you. He actually has the heart of a cow … or at least part of one. Inside his tiny little chest, doctors used a portion of a bovine’s heart to patch the hole.

“What they did was: They replaced the hole with a piece of cow heart, and now you would never know I had open-heart surgery,” Troy told the crowd. “I’m just like every other 7-year-old, full of energy.”

Listening to Troy talk about his “cow heart” really made me reflect on what’s in my own heart. Each time his little heart beats, it reminds him life is a gift meant to be lived and not to be taken for granted. His cow heart not only gives him life; it also gives him an unbridled spirit and a courageous sense of confidence. He looks ahead not with the blinders of limitation but rather with eyes wide open to boundless opportunity.

If having the heart of a cow means living fearlessly and with a child-like faith like Troy, then I could sure use one. Maybe you could too.

We all know times are tough in the dairy world right now. Whether it’s a bout of depression, an unexpected diagnosis or mounting debt, it may seem like discouragement is lurking around every corner, positioned to pounce on us and steal our joy.

That’s why it’s more important now than ever to face the future with faith, not fear, and to live each day like little Troy, with the heart of a cow.  end mark

Peggy Coffeen