Trails Dynasty hosts heart benefit to aid local teen

Dimitri and Irene Liapis aboard the RE/Max Balloon at Camp LUCK, a week-long, medically supervised summer camp for kids with heart disease, where Dimitri worked as Counselor in Training in early August. Photo courtesy of Irene Liapis

Dimitri and Irene Liapis aboard the RE/Max Balloon at Camp LUCK, a week-long, medically supervised summer camp for kids with heart disease, where Dimitri worked as Counselor in Training in early August. Photo courtesy of Irene Liapis

Indian Trail – Inspired by a local high schooler, a local business has stepped up to donate a portion of its daily proceeds on Saturday, Aug. 23 to the Children’s Miracle Network as part of the third annual RE/MAX Month of Miracles. 

The owners of Trails Dynasty, a miniature golf course in Indian Trail, will donate a dollar to CMN for every game of mini-golf played on that day. They did so after hearing the story of Dimitri Liapis, a 16-year-old high school student who was born with a congenital heart defect known as Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. 

HLHS is a rare heart defect in which the left side of the heart is severely underdeveloped. This means the heart can’t effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. 

Those suffering from HLHS usually face multiple surgeries throughout their childhood. New technology means the defect is not as deadly as it once was, but life with HLHS is still a struggle for a developing child. 

Dimitri had his last surgery in 2001, yet still needs regular check-ups and heart catheterizations, which is what brought him to Trails Dynasty. 

Dimitri had a catheterization on July 22. The procedure can be stressful for Dimitri and his family. Although he has enjoyed great health for a number of years, some anxiety comes with any doctor’s visit. Dimitri passed his tests and, with extended family in town, it was time to unwind. 

“We were on ‘Cloud Nine,’” Dimitri’s mother, Irene Liapis said. “Putt-putt is our favorite thing to do as a family when we go to the beach. That’s what Dimitri said he wanted to do.” 

While enjoying the course with her family, Irene Liapis began talking with Amy Merritt, who had just opened Trails Dynasty with her husband, Scott, in April. Irene told Amy why the family was there and a little more about Dimitri’s story. The two bonded during the family’s visit and Amy immediately knew she wanted to help in some way, she said. 

“I told her we’d be happy to do anything we could to benefit them or any of the other kids who are having issues,” Amy Merritt said. 

Irene Liapis, a real estate agent with RE/MAX, immediately started thinking about the upcoming Month of Miracles her company has run every August for three years in order to help the Children’s Miracle Network, a nonprofit that funds new equipment and technology in children’s hospitals.

Within a day, the Merritts had discussed the idea of participating and were on board. Children’s Miracle Network makes much of it’s money through simple $1 donations and the Merritts decided they could make one for each game of golf played on that Saturday. 

“Our heart is for helping others in the community,” Amy Merritt said. “That’s why we built this facility, to help those in the community.” 

The Merritts already have at least two more fundraisers planned, one to raise money for schoolchildren in Nepal and another that will benefit the American Red Cross, before the year’s out. 

As for Irene Liapis, she joined RE/MAX because of the work they do with Children’s Miracle Network. CMN has raised over $130 million for 170 children’s hospitals around North America in the last 22 years. Those hospitals include Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, which has played a huge role in keeping Dimitri in good health throughout his childhood. 

The family was encouraged to move when Dimitri was born, as doctors in Philadelphia and Detroit have more experience with his rare defect. The family put its trust into the doctors at Levine, however, and hasn’t looked back. 

“We have a lot of choices for health care and we are so lucky to have had Levine Children’s Hospital,” Irene said. “When we met [Dimitri’s childhood cardiologist] Dr. Watts we were certain we were in the right place. To have that in Charlotte as opposed to having to uproot your family and move is so important.” 

The Liapis family moved to Charlotte 18 years ago and now resides in Waxhaw, where they’ve lived for seven years.  

Dimitri, a rising junior, will be attending Carmel Christian School for the upcoming school year. He turns 17 in October and, although his heart defect keeps him from playing organized sports in school, he stays active and has a passion for weightlifting. He said he’s very thankful to Trails Dynasty for helping his family support CMN. 

“It is really cool that CMN gives money to Levine Children’s Hospital for kids like me to get the best health care possible right here in Charlotte,” Dimitri said.

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Ryan Pitkin

About Ryan Pitkin

Ryan has been with Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group as a news reporter since July 2014. He became managing editor of Union County Weekly in January 2015. He reports on town government in western Union County, among other things. Ryan began his journalism career at Creative Loafing as an intern, later becoming a columnist and news reporter, focusing on crime and social issues.

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