11-year-old tells his survival story ahead of Midlands American Heart Association Casting Call

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Published: Oct. 27, 2021 at 4:22 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Heart survivors across the Midlands will tell their stories of survival for the annual American Heart Association Casting Call on Thursday, October 28th, 2021. Men, women, and children of all age groups are invited to speak their bravery through a camera lens.

WIS spoke to one Midlands young man whose circumstances have never been easy, but he and his parents are committed to telling his story to remind others that courage is contagious.

We visited 11-year-old Noah Gilliam at Ben Lippen School, where he is a 5th grader. It’s fair to say it is not easy keeping up with him. He runs fast, he shoots the basketball well and he refuses to miss lunch – even for a television interview.

Noah swimming
Noah swimming(WIS)

So it’s hard to imagine a time when he was completely still in a hospital bed after major open-heart surgery.

“I was running around playing like all kids do and then my chest would hurt and I would keep on running out of breath and I couldn’t catch up to all the other kids who were playing,” said Noah.

Noah had a heart defect at birth called a ventricular septal defect, or “VSD,” meaning he had holes in his tiny, fragile heart.

“After it was done I was in the bed and couldn’t move and couldn’t walk,” said Noah.

That was roughly 6 years ago when he was 5 years old and he was alone in China, growing up in an orphanage.

“[I was] a little nervous and scared,” he said.

David and Connie Gilliam adopted Noah shortly after his heart surgery. His Mom, Connie, said it’s an operation he should’ve gotten as a baby.

“He just perseveres… he’s a fighter,” Connie said. “Growing up in an orphanage he learned that at a very young age.”

Now, Noah tells his story in his own words.

“I just tell people I had heart surgery and it was kind of a long ride,” he said.

It’s a road that led him to the Gilliams and to The Ben Lippen School in Columbia, South Carolina, where you’d never know he hadn’t been here his whole life.

It’s the perfect reminder that you never know someone’s full story until they speak it out loud.

“People need to share their stories because it gives other people encouragement,” Connie said. “They are just the same as everybody else and their stories are important.”

Noah & Family
Noah & Family(WIS)

If you have a story of survival like Noah, no matter your age or gender, you can share your story for a chance to become a local American Heart Association Spokesperson.

It’s Thursday, October 28th at the Hilton Columbia Center from 5:30-7:30 PM. You can RSVP here.

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