Skipping in the Heart Foundation’s Jump Rope for Heart program has special meaning for Como brothers Jacob and Byron Waller.
In 2013, the boys’ mum, Melissa, came down with a nasty virus that gave her severe headaches. Suspecting meningitis, Melissa’s GP sent her to hospital for a lumbar puncture.
During this hospital stay, Melissa learned for the first time that she had a heart murmur. This was probably unrelated to the virus, doctors told her, but advised Melissa to have a heart scan as soon as possible to investigate the cause.
Two weeks later, Melissa was back at her GP’s office to get the results of her scan – and the news wasn’t good. Melissa was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a disease in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick. This can make it harder for the heart to pump blood.
Many people with HCM have few, if any, symptoms and can lead normal lives with no significant problems. However, in some cases it can cause shortness of breath, chest pain or problems in the heart's electrical system, resulting in life-threatening abnormal heart rhythms or sudden death.
HCM is usually caused by abnormal genes. “I was stunned to learn at the age of 35 that I’d had this potentially life-threatening condition since birth. I was also worried I may have passed it on to my sons,” Melissa said.
Thankfully, Melissa currently has no symptoms. She is closely monitored by a cardiologist and avoids strenuous exercise, as this can sometimes trigger a heart event in HCM patients. Melissa’s sons – 12-year-old Jacob and 10-year-old Byron – have regular echocardiograms, but so far are showing no signs of the condition.
Melissa said when the boys heard their school, Como West Public School, was doing the Jump Rope program this term, they readily signed up for it.
“They have such a personal connection to heart disease and really enjoy skipping,” she said. “They also understand how important it is to raise funds for research into conditions like HCM.” Both boys have exceeded their fundraising targets, as has their school.
Heart Foundation Director of Active Living, Adjunct Professor Trevor Shilton, thanked Jacob, Byron and all Jump Rope participants across Australia for participating in the program.
“As these kids discovered, Jump Rope for Heart is lots of fun and great exercise, but it also helps the Heart Foundation in its important work funding lifesaving research and health projects.
“Heart Foundation-funded research has helped make big advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease over the past six decades, including genetic conditions.”
This year has posed some challenges for the Jump Rope for Heart program, with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting schools across the country, Professor Shilton said.
“In response, we have developed new ways to engage with teachers, kids and parents,” he said. “This includes some terrific online videos about skipping and heart health, as well as instructional videos on how to do neat tricks like the ‘Criss Cross’ and the ‘Awesome Annie’.”
Jump Rope for Heart is one of Australia’s favourite school physical activity programs, inspiring kids to embrace skipping as a fun way to get active.
Since the program’s inception in 1983, more than 10 million Australian kids and more than 90 per cent of Aussie schools have taken part in Jump Rope for Heart. In that time, schools have raised awareness and more than $104 million to help the Heart Foundation fight heart disease – Australia’s single leading cause of death.
Teachers who are interested in registering their school for Jump Rope for Heart can sign up here.