Six year old Rylea Poor Bear needs heart transplant, prayers

By Tim Huether

You may have seen a beautiful, vibrant little girl decked out in her little Bennett County Warrior cheerleader outfit bouncing around on the sidelines of a Warrior basketball game in the past few years. That was Rylea Poor Bear and you would never know she was born with Congenital Heart Disease. She loves to cheer for and support the Warriors and flashed her warm, loving smile all the while. Her sixth birthday is Sept. 27, and the best gift she can receive is the prayers and support of the community she loves as she is lying in a hospital bed, in need of a heart transplant. Unfortunately, her health had taken a downturn as she recently contracted E. coli because of the antibiotics and until she is stable enough to receive a transplant, she is unable to receive one, even though she is at the top of the list. This Monday morning the doctors informed the family her condition has improved as her fever went down and her heart rate improved, giving them hope. According to Justin, there is an incredible team of nurses and physicians working with her and there are more than 20 healthcare individuals surrounding her at times each day.

On August 3, 2023, Rylea was transported to Sioux Falls, S.D., to be confined in the hospital due to the fluttering of her heart. Two days later, she was taken to Iowa City, Iowa, because they had better care for her condition at that facility. Recently, she had an open heart procedure where she was given the VAD (Ventricular Assist Device). Right now, she is still in the Pediatric ICU, and she is on a ECHMO machine which replaces her heart temporarily until she gets ready for the heart transplant - at a very young age. She has gone through three open heart surgeries and two open chest surgeries to date. The last one was about a month ago. At this time, 99 percent of her heart is damaged.

“She would be just the third baby since 1988 in the 6-9 age to receive a heart transplant,” said dad Justin Poor Bear. “It seems like every week, there’s something. She’s too swollen, E. Coli, her hands are puffy.”

“God has been with her though,” said Justin. 

Justin and his sons traveled to Iowa City this past weekend to celebrate Rylea’s  birthday with her and his wife Christine, who has been staying with Rylea daily. They try to make the trip every two weeks as Justin feels it is important to be home with his sons Christin and Justin Jr. while they attend school, giving them as much normalcy as possible. While in Iowa City, Justin was allowed to hug Rylea for the first time in three months. He said it not only made him cry, but the nurses all cried too.  Christin is a Junior at Bennett County High School and Justin Jr. is an eighth grader at American Horse School. Bob is attending college at South Dakota State University.

“She loves Bennett County so much,” said Justin. “She loves to cheerlead. She has her own purple pom poms. She watches the cheerleaders and she knows every routine.”

Poor Bear said his family is very thankful to the entire community for all they have done for them. 

“Martin, has really come together for us,” said Justin. “For a small community, it doesn’t matter what race you are, nationality you are, everyone has been great. This little girl brings everyone together. There’s no words you can write to say how thankful we are, no words to express this. To do all these food drives, fund raisers, in reality, we’re not just helping her, she’s helping us.”

Last Thursday, a fundraiser meal was held at the Bennett County High School lunchroom that was very well attended. At that gathering several groups presented gifts to give to Rylea for her sixth birthday. The Bennett County Athletic Boosters presented a large amount of items donated through them from members and others in the community. Dakotamart donated the food for that meal.

Besides all the local support, Rylea’s story has circulated on facebook and Paige Bueckers and Aliyah Boston, both NCAA Women’s Basketball players of the year recently, sent her items with their autograph on them. Justin has a professor friend at the university of Iowa and asked if he could get an autograph of Caitlin Clark for Rylea. Clark is a Junior on Iowa’s women’s basketball team and is regarded as one, of if not the, best current player in the country. Clark sent two autographed shirts, a cake and balloons for Rylea. Grand Prix driver Alex Caffi has been following her story on facebook.

“Ever since she was born, we would always be traveling back and forth from different hospitals to meet the needs of her young heart,” said Poor Bear. “We are very appreciative of the continuous support and prayers of our relatives, friends and community for our family especially to our Rylea. It has been five years of emotional and financial struggle for the whole family, but just like our little warrior, we will never give up on this battle.”

Justin said he is proud of his boys for how supportive they have been, saying it is tough on everyone. 

“People ask me how we stay so strong and I tell them, family, and faith in God, God keeps us strong,” stated Justin. “When you’re going  through this, you go through everything, it’s the biggest roller coaster in your life, you worry about your house, your jobs, your kids...what’s the next step. We are so thankful to American Horse School for telling us they are holding Christine’s job for her while she has to be away.”

“We wonder how much more we can take and she (Rylea) gives us a look and it’s, dad, mom, don’t give up,” remarked Justin. She didn’t give up and we don’t give up. You never lose faith in God. You don’t second guess God and he’s helping us through all these things.”

It will be a long road ahead for Rylea and her family as once she gets a heart transplant, she will need additional transplants down the road as she grows. Besides prayers, Justin said they are in dire need of reliable transportation to and from Iowa and hope to get an all wheel drive vehicle before winter sets in.

“Our dear princess is in a very difficult situation right now,” continued Poor Bear. “As parents, we are equally placed in a difficult position as we see our baby suffering from a condition we never wished for. Given this, as parents, we are humbly asking for your help. Whatever amount of donation you can give will be used to cover our missing wages, food, lodging, and transportation to and from South Dakota to Iowa.”

His wife, Christine, is on leave from American Horse School where she is a teacher. Justin is not employed because one parent must be with Rylea at all times and he has been taking care of her while Christine works. Justin is on the American Horse School Board and enjoys volunteering as the Bennett County High School boys and girls basketball game announcer for the livestsreaming of games.

“If you wish to help us through financial support, we would be more than happy to utilize it for the medical treatment and fast recovery of our daughter,” proclaimed Poor Bear. “I have three sites where I can receive your donations.


-VENMO: Justin-PoorBear

-CASHAPP - $JustinPoorBear

“In these trying times, your prayers, well-wishes, support, and financial assistance are all greatly appreciated!”

Happy Birthday Rylea!

502 Second Avenue, Martin, SD 57551 • 605-685-6866 •