INDIAN TRAIL – Sardis Elementary School physical education teacher Claudia Zapka has incorporated Jump Rope for Heart into her curriculum since the school opened more than 16 years ago.
But the response the event received this year from both students and faculty was like nothing Zapka has ever seen, as students fundraised in the name of Madelynn Addler, a Sardis Elementary kindergartener born with a congenital heart defect.
Madelynn was born with an interrupted aortic arch and underwent open-heart surgery at 10 weeks old. She contracted pneumonia and suffered a collapsed lung during her time in the hospital, and her parents were told there was no medical reason for her to still be alive.
“She was very sick, and for a few days we weren’t sure if she would live,” Chelsea Addler, Madelynn’s mom, said.
But Madelynn made a miraculous recovery, and her family has dedicated their lives to sharing their story in hopes of encouraging other families with “heart children” – which is why they were eager to have Madelynn be the face of this year’s Jump Rope for Heart fundraiser. The event took place in February and raised $4,072 for the American Heart Association.
Zapka set this year’s Jump Rope for Heart target amount at $2,014, not knowing whether the school would reach the goal. But she believes hearing Madelynn’s story and seeing her picture on fundraising posters inspired students and faculty to become involved like never before.
“Our school is big on giving to the community – giving back is part of what we teach children,” Zapka said. “But to actually put a face of one of our very own students, that really hit home.”
The school worked to raise money all month long, and Zapka talked to her physical education classes during the month, teaching them about the human heart and the importance of heart health.
“We talk about the heart in class – how it’s a muscle and doesn’t look like what we think it looks like, and the importance of having a strong heart,” Zapka said.
Zapka’s classes participated in a variety of jump rope and jump-themed activities at different stations during the Jump Rope for Heart event, Feb. 24 to 28. Activities included pogo stick jumps, a mini trampoline station, jumping with hula-hoops, jumping over boxes and different levels of jump rope techniques. Students also visited a stethoscope station, where they learned more about the human heart and measured their resting and active heart rates.
Students turned in the money they raised during the week of the Jump Rope for Heart event and in exchange received small ducks for raising different amounts – including a red-and-white camouflage duck; a black ninja duck; a duck with multi-colored, “troll-like” hair; a “Mr. Cool” duck with sunglasses and an “I Love P.E.” T-shirt; a superhero duck; a medals duck; and a “gold” duck trophy.
While Zapka was excited the school more than doubled its fundraising goal, her hope for her students is they learn the importance of helping others.
“I really hope they learn that everyone is different, and that we all, at some point in our lives, are going to need help from others,” she said, adding she’s excited the students now know someone personally who’s benefitted from the funds raised through endeavors like Jump Rope for Heart. “I really think they took to heart the story about Maddy.”
Addler said she’s grateful for the American Heart Association and how the organization provides funds for research and other services that help keep children like Madelynn alive.
“We benefit from that because research can eventually find out why these children (are born with heart defects), and help children with more severe issues who don’t make it, like Madelynn did,” Addler said.
And, of course, Madelynn was excited to become a mini-celebrity at the school, Addler added.
“She loves being at school, and when she sees her picture everywhere she gets very excited,” she said. “Anything we can do to spread the word about congenital heart defect awareness … I’m all for it.”