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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Marquette nursing professor Callie Chiroff is taking ‘big steps for little hearts’

To date, Project Bubaloo has raised over $600,000 for CHD research.
Chiroff started Project Bubaloo in 2018. Photo courtesy of Callie Chiroff.

Tragedy struck for one Marquette professor less than a year after the birth of her son, but the way she channeled her grief to make a change in the medical research field has impacted the lives of millions

Callie Chiroff, clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing, gave birth to Theo James “Bubaloo” Schlicht Sept. 27, 2017. Theo weighed just over three pounds and suffered from congenital heart disease, the most common birth defect that causes the heart to develop incorrectly.

Theo died the following March after a lengthy battle with CHD, which Chiroff said shattered her world. Following the death of her son, she decided to work to spread awareness of CHD.

That’s when she and her sister, Katherine Jansen, founded Project Bubaloo in 2018, a non-profit with a mission of spreading community awareness and advancing the quality of care for those affected by congenital heart disease. Project Bubaloo’s main focus is generating funds for research projects that improve the care of CHD patients. 

“Helping my sister run Project Bubaloo is the most rewarding work I do. Raising money for the disease that took my nephew’s life is something I am so passionate about, so it doesn’t even feel like work. I want nothing more than to make him proud and continue to support my sister in her grief journey,” Jansen said in an email.

The organization prides itself on “taking big strides for little hearts.”

To date, Project Bubaloo has raised over $600,000 for CHD research. The organization hosts events like 5K run/walk and their annual “Hops for Hearts” nights with beer and live music to generate donations for research. Tickets are currently available for the next Hops for Hearts event April 19 in Milwaukee, and regular donations can always be made on their website.

In addition to raising money for CHD research, Project Bubaloo hosts nurse lectureships at Children’s Wisconsin, funds quality improvement kits and creates new education tools for hospital staff.

“What I am most proud of is how Callie was able to take the worst thing that could happen to anyone, and turn it into something for the greater good. Losing a baby is the worst thing imaginable, but … she lost her son and decided to make the world a better place. How amazing is that?” Jansen said in an email. 

Chiroff said she did not imagine the project having as much outreach as it does now across both the state and country, but she found a lot of support in the Milwaukee community from individuals who had also been personally affected by CHD.

“The more people we can reach to bring awareness the better we’re going to be. I think that we still have a long way to go when it comes to the awareness part. Once in a while, congenital heart disease gets a little publicity, but it’s really hard to keep it in the media to get people to understand the problem itself,” Chiroff said. 

Besides raising money for families affected by CHD, Chiroff offers a shoulder for grieving mothers, because she was in their shoes once. She said it feels nice to connect with a group of people who feel the same pain she did, because they can all support one another and use their love and energy for good. 

When she’s not working as the president of Project Bubaloo, Chiroff is making an impact on her nursing students at Marquette. She said the university provides her with a great opportunity to teach future nurses about CHD awareness. She also said her students are always willing to do volunteer work for Project Bubaloo, and she is more than happy to have them. 

“I just recently was walking down the hall at Children’s Wisconsin when two nurses turned around, and both of them were previous students of mine working in the cardiac ICU. I don’t want to say it was totally because of me, but I do know that I had an influence over their decision to be there and that for me is a very proud moment,” Chiroff said. 

However, the thing Chiroff cherishes the most in life is family. She is now a proud mother to her three-year-old daughter, and she said she finds support from her husband, sister, mom and in-laws.

Notably, Chiroff was named to the 2024 Milwaukee Business Journal’s 40 Under 40. While Chiroff said she was incredibly humbled and honored to make the list, she said she still finds the most value in the people around her and making a difference for them.

“All of these accolades, all of these things that I am grateful for and proud of—if I’m not a good mom, if I’m not a good wife, if I’m not a good friend—none of those mean anything. I will never sacrifice my time with my family and my friends, and my personal life for all of the professional accolades,” Chiroff said. 

Jansen said in an email the Business Journal feature came as no surprise to anyone who knows Chiroff. She said Chiroff is the most deserving of the nomination because of all the work she has done to raise awareness for CHD, support grieving families and improve the treatment of patients. 

“She loved Theo more than anything, but she couldn’t save him,” Jansen said in an email. “I know she will spend the rest of her life trying to save others so other families do not have to experience a loss like hers.”

This story was written by Mia Thurow. She can be reached at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Mia Thurow is a first-year student from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin double-majoring in Journalism and Spanish with a minor in Digital Media. She is a Marquette Wire News Reporter for the 2023-2024 school year. In her free time, Mia enjoys cheering on all her favorite sports teams, exploring downtown Milwaukee with friends, and spending time hiking in nature. Mia is excited to meet new people during her time at the Wire and raise awareness of important news stories in the local community.

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