One year to the day he was diagnosed with heart disease — and 10 months after open heart surgery — 6-year-old Donnie Feick displayed the heart of a lion at Waterloo’s Zahnow Elementary.
Every year in January, the school’s students do a certain number of jump rope exercises and learning activities in physical education class as part of Jump Rope For Heart, sponsored by the American Heart Association.
Two years ago, Zahnow P.E. teacher Karla Bivins started an incentive program for the top Jump Rope For Heart fund-raisers.
Students are treated to limo rides, lunch at McDonald’s and other fun perks for raising money to help this worthy cause.
Little Donnie, son of Angie and Don Feick of Waterloo, never exhibited symptoms of heart disease until he started Kindergarten in August 2008.
“He was relatively healthy,” his mother recalls. “No more sickness than any other child. He was very energetic.”
That took a turn for the worse in September 2008.
Donnie came down with strep throat, pneumonia and then a viral infection three weeks later.
In November, he contracted mononucleosis, and then strep throat again in December.
“In January 2009, he came down with pneumonia again,” Angie said. “Our pediatrician ordered up another round of chest x-rays and advised us at that time that she felt his heart was very enlarged.”
He then saw a cardiologist on Jan. 22, and an atrial septal defect was discovered.
“She advised us that due to the location of the hole in his heart, the best and only repair would be via open heart surgery,” Angie said.
Donnie had to wait for his pneumonia to clear up before he could have open heart surgery, which he successfully underwent in March 2009.
“The hardest part for us as his parents was knowing that they had to stop his heart and use the bypass machine,” Angie said.
During the surgery, doctors found more going on then just the hole — he also had partial anomalous pulmonary venous return.
“This is where the venous returns were attached to the wrong chamber of his heart,” Donnie’s mother explained. “They had to remove them and reattach them to the correct chamber.”
Angie said, however, that all of the things going wrong with his heart actually helped it function until the surgeons repaired it to a normal heart.
Donnie was released from Children’s Hospital in St. Louis on March 28, 2009 — missing just eight days of school.
“What a miracle!” Angie said.
Donnie must see his cardiologist once a year for check-ups, but has no restrictions other than watching out for medications not recommended for patients with heart disease.
“He participated in organized soccer leagues this fall and winter, and is very excited about playing baseball this spring for the first time,” Angie said of her son’s recovery.
But the biggest statement of Donnie’s health — and inner desire to be just like everyone else at school — was yet to come.
“He knew he wanted to help collect donations for Jump Rope For Heart all along — especially since he does have heart disease himself.
Angie said her son drew extra inspiration from a story on the television news involving heart transplant patients at Children’s Hospital.
“This really inspired him to want to help. He told me he felt lucky,” Angie said.
The Feick family sat down and started up a page through the AHA’s Jump Rope For Heart web site.
Donnie and his parents got the word out about his experience and asked family and friends to donate towards the school’s annual jump rope efforts.
On Jan. 22, Donnie and his parents jump roped at Zahnow, raising a whopping $1,085.
“And he has done this on his own,” Bivins said. “I am so proud of him.”
As of right now, the school has raised $10,100 through Jump Rope For Heart.
“This is the best year ever!” Bivins said.
And the Feicks are proud as well — for Donnie’s health and all those who rallied to the cause of their son.
“We are so blessed and grateful for our family, friends, church, teachers and co-workers, who were supportive and understanding this past year, as well as their generous donations,” Angie said.