Braxton Novak, 5, is shown at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha recovering from his sixth open-heart surgery. A fundraiser to help the family cope with medical bills is set for Saturday at Stringers in Yankton. 

A fundraiser is set this weekend for a Yankton native whose child who is struggling with a heart condition.

A benefit for 5-year-old Braxton Novak will be held at Stringer’s Bar & Grill, 3703 W. 8th St. in Yankton, on Nov. 23, Saturday, at 5 p.m. The event will feature live music by Rock Hardys, a raffle, a silent auction and a 50-50 drawing. Food will be provided by Hawks Heartland BBQ.

Braxton was born with a rare congenital malformation of the heart called Shone’s Complex. He had his first open-heart surgery in August 2014 at the age of one week, and due to complications, his first three months of life were spent in the hospital.

“We found out when he was in utero that he had a heart condition,” his mother, Katie Novak told the Press & Dakotan. “So, we knew before he was born that he would have it.”

Braxton was hospitalized for three months in 2015 and 2016.

“By that point, he had had five open-heart surgeries,” Novak said. “It’s been on and off like that his whole life.”

Braxton’s medical issues stem from problems with his mitral valve, the valve that allows blood to flow on the left side of the heart from one chamber to another.

He has been hospitalized five times since the beginning of the year. On May 9, he was admitted to the Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, where he has been ever since.

In June, Braxton had his sixth open-heart surgery, from which he is still recovering.

“This has been the longest stay since he’s been born,” Novak said. “We tried to fix his valve back in June, hoping that would be the answer to some of our problems, but since then, we’ve just had a host of other problems.”

Braxton began accumulating fluid in his belly that required consistent draining, and he required ventilators for a long time.

“It’s hard to say with these heart kiddos,” Novak said “If the heart isn’t working, they just have other organs that don’t work 100%.”

At this time, although the problems with his heart are affecting his lungs and kidneys and the infection in his belly has not cleared up yet, Braxton is in good spirits.

“He is sitting up playing; he loves to shoot people with his Nerf gun; he reads books; he works with physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OC) every day and they get him out of bed and playing,” Novak said. “He’s just full of life, and everybody here loves him. He’s like a mini celebrity because his personality is just contagious. He’s got so many friends here.”

Some days are harder than others, so Novak mostly tries to take her cues from Braxton’s mood.

“It doesn’t benefit myself or him for me to be sad all the time. So I try to find the positives, like, ‘OK, if he’s still here, that means I get more time with him,’” Novak said. “I try to find the positives in every situation that he goes through because he’s still fighting, and if he’s still fighting, I should be fighting with him.”

Over the next 12 weeks, doctors hope alleviating the stress on Braxton’s organs will help improve his condition, Novak said.

Recently, Novak left her job to be at the hospital with her son, while Braxton’s father, Garrett Jones, is home in Sioux Falls working to pay the bills.

“So that’s another struggle,” Novak said. “You go from two incomes to one, and then you’re states away trying to manage your relationship and your family. It’s not easy.

Neither is having to communicate with family when Braxton is having a hard time and there’s no time to deal with her own emotions, she said.

“One thing that I always hope is that people don’t take time for granted,” Novak said. “This isn’t something that you want other people to experience, but if they do: be optimistic and appreciate everything that you do have, because you never know what will happen.”


For more information go to Braxton’s Heart Journey on Facebook. There is also a Braxton’s 6th Heart Surgery page at

Follow @CoraVanOlson on Twitter

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