Each year, more than 300,000 Aussie school kids take part in the Heart Foundation’s Jump Rope for Heart program. Every one of them is special – but nine-year-old Matilda Grimshaw is more inspiring than most.
That’s because Matilda started skipping for the Heart Foundation only a month after having open-heart surgery to treat a congenital heart condition.
In February this year, Matilda was diagnosed with complete heart block (CHB). Normally, the upper and lower chambers of the heart communicate via electrical signals to ensure they beat at the same rate. In CHB, these signals are blocked, and the faster rate of the upper chambers is not passed on to the lower chambers.
A “backup” system takes over, allowing the heart to continue pumping blood around the body, but at a much slower rate than usual. Before her surgery, Matilda’s heart rate was only about 35 to 40 beats per minute. (A normal rate is 60 to 100 beats.) Matilda also tired easily and had regular dizzy spells.
On April 28, surgeons at Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne inserted a pacemaker to take over the electrical signalling system in Matilda’s heart and restore a normal rhythm.
"As soon as I saw Matilda after her surgery, her face looked brighter and she had pink cheeks for the first time in her life,” said Matilda’s mum, Jess."
A few weeks later, Matilda returned to her school, St Catherine of Siena Primary in Armstrong Creek, Geelong. She was excited to learn the school was participating in Jump Rope for Heart during Term Two.
With Jess’s help and her doctors’ permission, Matilda registered for the program on May 29 – only a month out from her surgery. “I am participating in Jump Rope for Heart because I want other kids with heart conditions to be able to have the same great treatment in hospital to get better like I have,” Matilda wrote on her profile.
Matilda can skip for about 10 minutes at a time and has raised almost $500 – well clear of her $200 target. Matilda’s younger brother, Rumi, is also participating in the program.
“Since having her pacemaker installed, we have noticed many positive changes for Matilda,” Jess said. “She has lots of energy and is enthusiastic about sports. She can enjoy running, scooting, skipping and riding her bike without getting tired. She can concentrate and read much faster, and is now devouring several novels a week.”
“We are amazed and grateful that Matilda is doing Jump Rope so soon after her heart surgery. She is very inspirational!” said Heart Foundation CEO VIC, Kellie-Ann Jolly.
“As Matilda 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 significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease over the past six decades. This includes the development of the pacemaker, which is now making such a tremendous impact in Matilda’s life.”
This year has posed some challenges for the Jump Rope for Heart program, with the coronavirus pandemic disrupting schools across the country, Ms Jolly 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’.”
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.
A total of 198 Australian schools participated in the Jump Rope for Heart program in Term Two. So far, 436 have signed up for Term Three.
Teachers who are interested in registering their school for Jump Rope for Heart can sign up here.