Imagine a fun, blonde 26-year-old former sorority girl and current MBA student at the Marshall School of Business. Words like “peppy,” “social” and “hardworking” might come to mind. She also happens to be stylish with an affinity for the unusual, an avid Instagrammer and a dedicated runner. This might all seem run-of-the-mill for the overachievers that fill every classroom at USC. This particular woman, however, warrants another adjective: survivor. Just last year, she had her second open-heart surgery — the result of being born with a congenital heart disease.
Heidi Burns had her first open-heart surgery just five days after she was born to fix the transposition of the greater blood vessels in her heart. Afterward, she led a completely normal childhood save for annual visits to a cardiologist. She played sports, traveled and enjoyed milestones like prom and getting into her dream school. But, it didn’t take her long to realize that other people sitting in her cardiologist’s waiting room didn’t have the same lucky story.
In 2014, Burns founded her company, Project Happy Hearts — a clothing brand that donates proceeds from every purchase to hospital heart centers. She began by taking photos of people holding up signs asking “What Makes Your Heart Happy,” and soon began printing comfy and stylish T-shirts emblazoned with a confident “I woke up this happy” message.
“I decided to pull out my 401k and get skin in the game,” Burns said. “Starting at Marshall really helped me understand the business side of it.”
Completely healthy now, Burns is cautious of anyone adhering too hard to the story of her health — for her, Project Happy Hearts is about every child who is still fighting heart disease and aims to inspire everyone to live happier and healthier lives.
On the business side of things, Burns has faced a lot of adversity as a female entrepreneur.
“It’s a boys club out there,” Burns said. “For example, while my company’s name does start with the word Project, it’s not my project; it’s my company and a lot of the time, people assume that it’s just something I’m doing on the side.”
She credits her success not only to hard work, but to standing out and knowing what she’s talking about.
“I never try and dress provocatively — but I do try and stand out,” Burns said. “That’s why I’m always wearing a unique jacket or a different kind of hat; it’s a good identifier. Also, I make sure I know exactly what I’m talking about before I go into a meeting; that’s where the Marshall education has been so useful.”
Burns, an avid fashion lover who says she has been stylish since the age of 3, gets the majority of her social media marketing through Instagram. She recognizes the viral power of the platform and utilizes it for all of its benefits. A quick glance at both her @hideebee and @project_happyhearts Instagram feeds show that Burns and her team of millennials are well-versed in effective social media marketing.
Project Happy Hearts is growing from a clothing brand into a full-blown lifestyle brand.
“We’re creating a product right now that I can’t quite tell you about,” Burns said. “We’re going through the patent process right now — but it will be available in hospital gift shops everywhere.”
Her goals surpass that of rallying people behind a worthy cause — more children die of heart disease than all cancers combined, according to Project Happy Hearts. She wants to inspire people to change the way they live their lives and encourage people to live happily.
Project Happy Hearts’s hashtag #whatmakesyourhearthappy is attached to pictures of Heidi and her friends doing things they love: spending time with family, traveling and hanging out in beautiful cities. Project Happy Hearts encourages people to live beautiful lives because life is short and precious, and not enough people remember that.
To commemorate American Heart Month, Project Happy Hearts is donating a large check to The Children’s Heart Foundation on Friday. To make a contribution or purchase clothing, head to projecthappyhearts.com.