From open-heart surgery to Jump Rope superstar

25 May 2020

One afternoon in February this year, seven-year-old Isla Riley came home from her Carramar school and excitedly told her parents, James and Layla, that she wanted to take part in the Heart Foundation’s Jump Rope for Heart program.

For most parents, this might not be significant or surprising. But Isla is no ordinary kid.

When Isla was a baby, James and Layla noticed that she wasn’t gaining much weight. Isla also suffered constant chest infections.

Doctors found she had an atrial septal defect (ASD), which means she was born with a hole in the wall, or septum, that separates the top two chambers of the heart.

Normally, the left side of the heart only pumps blood to the body, and the right side only pumps blood to the lungs. In ASD, extra blood leaks through the hole into the right chamber. If the hole is large enough, that side of the heart must work harder. The lungs are also put under extra pressure.

At the age of just two, Isla had open-heart surgery to treat her condition.

“When Isla learned her school was doing Jump Rope for Heart, she felt a real connection to the cause,” Layla said. “She told me, ‘Mum, I can’t go in the school talent show, because I don’t have a talent. But this is skipping. I can do that and also help other kids like me’.”

Isla registered for the program and practised her skipping almost every day, even after her school closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Layla supported Isla with social media posts.

Isla not only improved her skipping skills markedly throughout the term, she finished the program as Carramar Primary School’s highest fundraiser, with $1667. Currently, she is also the second highest individual fundraiser nationally.

“This is an incredible achievement, and given the Heart Foundation relies almost entirely on donations, we thank Isla and every other Jump Rope participant for their efforts,” said Heart Foundation CEO WA, Sarah Fordham.

“As Isla 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.”

This year has posed some challenges for the Jump Rope for Heart program, with the pandemic disrupting schools across the country, Ms Fordham said.

“In response, we have developed new ways to engage with teachers, kids and parents,” she 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’.”

A total of 36 Western Australian schools, including 21 in the Perth area, are taking part in Jump Rope for Heart in Term Two. Among them is Castletown Primary School in Esperance, which in just four weeks has logged 250 hours of skipping and raised a whopping $12,657.

Jump Rope for Heart is one of Australia’s favourite school 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.