motivates others through public speaking, heart transplant story
After returning from the Junior World Golf Championships in 2019, Jimmy Williams, currently an eighth grader at Russell Hawkins Junior High in Jackson, received a life-altering diagnosis. He had pediatric cardiomyopathy, meaning his heart was enlarged and losing its ability to pump blood. He needed a heart transplant, and he needed one fast.
He got placed high on the waiting list to receive a new heart, but it still took 103 days before one was available.
“It was stressful. Every time the phone would ring, I would think that it could be the call. … Right when you start to lose hope, you know, [it] comes right back,” Jimmy says.
On Dec. 13, 2019, Jimmy received his heart transplant at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital in St. Louis. It was a stressful time for his family, but Jimmy remembers the hospital staff saying he “made one of the speediest recoveries for a heart transplant they’d seen.”
Jimmy wanted to share his success story and give back to the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital, so he agreed to speak at their 2020 Heart & Soul fundraiser to benefit the hospital’s heart center.
This experience of telling his story in front of a “big crowd” helped him fall in love with the power and art of public speaking. Now, Jimmy says he’s spoken at 50 events, including hospital fundraisers, Rotary Club gatherings and everything in-between.
In 2022, Jimmy was named patient co-chair for Cardinal Glennon’s Homers for Health Foundation, founded by former Cardinals player Matt Holliday and his wife, Leslee. The organization raises money to support the children served by the children’s hospital. One of Jimmy’s favorite experiences was getting to emcee the foundation’s Holliday’s Heroes Banquet and meet the former Cardinals player in person. Jimmy already has plans to speak again at the 2023 banquet.
At 12 years old, Jimmy started a charity called Jimmy’s Birthday Wish. Through this charity, Jimmy collects toy donations for patients at the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. So far, he says he’s delivered more than 1,000 toys.
“I just thought about the kids in the hospital. … I was a really fortunate kid. I have such great parents, and they really helped me through all of it. But some of the kids that were in there … their parents wouldn't show up for weeks on end,” Jimmy says. “[Having toys] can really just help those kids pass the time by, and just do anything to make their day a little bit better.”
Jimmy loves sports, especially golf. He says he started at the age of 2 years old and has competed in countless golf tournaments throughout his youth. Only two weeks after his heart transplant, he says he was “back on the range hitting golf balls.” His dream is to play golf professionally one day, but the first step is trying out for the Jackson High School golf team next year.
Both Jimmy and his father, Jim Williams, are dedicated St. Louis Cardinals fans. Jimmy says he actually co-wrote his book, “An Attitude of Grace,” with his father while watching the Cardinals’ baseball games on television. He says they’d pass the laptop back and forth, taking turns writing during commercial breaks.
The book details Jimmy’s heart transplant journey and the lessons he learned from it. He says he wrote the bulk of the beginning and end of the book, while his father helped write the sections from the hospital, which Jimmy doesn’t remember as well.
Jimmy is eager to share his story with others, through public speaking and writing. The main lesson he wants people to take from it is “to have an attitude of grace.” He explains how when you’re playing a sport, if you hit a bad golf shot or throw a bad pitch, you can work harder to improve and “help yourself get better.” But in the hospital, you’re stuck: You must have patience.
“So at that point [when you’re in the hospital], you just got to give all the power to God,” Jimmy says. “You can really just transform. … Just trust in the power of God's grace and let grace build an attitude within you.”