- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 29, 2016

HEYWORTH, Ill. (AP) - At first glance, it appeared that the only thing going on in the Heyworth Elementary School gymnasium was that 73 second-graders were running around playing tag.

But when students were tagged, they ran up to physical education teacher Rosemary Martin in the center of the gym. She asked each of them to describe one thing they could do to keep their heart healthy. When they answered correctly, they rejoined the game.

“No one is sitting around,” she said during a recent P.E. class.

Later, they played games using a parachute.

“The goal is to get them to work together,” Martin explained. “They are learning the value of teamwork, running and skipping around and using their arms.”

As the second-graders were getting and keeping their heart rates up and doing a full-body workout, they were putting into practice what they learned about heart health.

And they were helping Martin to continue her long-standing practice of integrating heart health lessons into P.E. class.

Martin understands the value of heart health. Her daughter survived an unusual heart scare when she was 10 years old.

“I want the kids to know about being physically fit but to do it in a fun way,” said Martin, who has taught physical education at Heyworth Elementary for 22 years. “I use games to keep them moving and to keep it fun. But I also want them to learn about being healthy and the importance of exercise.”

“My daughter’s experience helped,” Martin said.

“That just sums up my mother,” said Martin’s daughter, Rebecca Howell, now a healthy, 36-year-old mother, wife and third-grade teacher in Clinton. “She’s gives her best to her students and her family.”

In addition, during each of the past 21 years, she has coordinated the school’s Jump Rope for Heart program. The American Heart Association program educates elementary school students about how to take care of their heart as they collect donations to fund heart association research, explained Amy McKuhen, heart association youth market director.

In those 21 years, Martin’s students have collected $117,000 and counting. Money continues to come in from the latest Jump Rope for Heart on Feb. 26.

“It’s good raising money for people with heart issues,” said Maura McMillan, 9, a Heyworth fourth-grader.

“That’s phenomenal,” McKuhen said of the money raised. “It says so much about the community and the school.”

Principal Brian Bradshaw said “Jump Rope for Heart has really helped our community to come together.”

“I have 150 schools in 17 counties and there are some amazing P.E. teachers out there,” McKuhen said. “Rosemary is a wonderful example of someone who gets it right and goes over and above.

“She brings in the educational component, teaching the kids how important it is to take care of their bodies,” McKuhen continued. “She has parents involved, she has posters up, she has music playing - it’s so inviting.”

“My daughter’s experience encouraged this,” said Martin, 65, of Heyworth. “When I found out that the money (from Jump Rope for Heart) goes to research, it made a difference to me. She benefited from research.”

“It could have been a really terrible situation,” she said of her condition, called coarctation of the aorta (CoA). “But she’s made something good of it.”

Howell was 10 years old when she awoke one morning in severe pain. At the hospital, doctors found that her blood pressure was high and they had difficulty finding her pulse in her feet.

After testing, doctors concluded that she had CoA, a narrowing of the major artery (the aorta) that carries blood to the body.

The narrowing was reducing blood flow to her legs, causing high blood pressure and the potential for heart damage.

“She didn’t know her feet were cold because they had been that way for so long,” Martin said.

“As a young adult, I would have faced the risks of a heart attack or death if it wasn’t repaired,” Howell said.

Howell was taken to Children’s Hospital in Chicago where a procedure that was unusual for its time was performed. The narrowed segment of the aorta was cut out and the aorta was patched back together.

“The patch was made of a new material that would grow with her,” Martin said.

“It was successful,” Howell said of the procedure. She has not needed additional surgeries, although she does see a cardiologist yearly.

“It’s lasted for 25 years,” her mother said. “That’s amazing.”

While Howell couldn’t do contact sports after that and had to quit fourth-grade basketball, she did do flag corps and dance.

“I knew I had some limitations and had to get used to it,” Howell said. “It doesn’t impact me much on a daily basis because I was lucky that it was caught early.”

Martin integrates heart health lessons - such as parts of the heart and how blood flows through the body - into her P.E. classes.

“It (P.E. class) is really fun because you can do fun games and learn new things,” said Annie Hadden, 8, a Heyworth second-grader.

“She’s a really fun teacher and we get to run around the gym,” Maura McMillan said. “I learned you have a resting heartbeat and a moving heartbeat.”

During the Jump Rope for Heart unit, Martin teaches about heart disease consequences, such as diabetes, and how those consequences affect people.

“I don’t think they (the students) knew until recently about my daughter,” said Martin, who is retiring at the end of this school year.

“They are just great kids.”

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1YHrirT

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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