REPUBLIC, Mo. There they were, hundreds of children dancing wildly and singing a song at a school assembly that many parents might find cringe-worthy.
But even if it’s dancing to the “Baby Shark” song, the point at this assembly is that any activity is good. And this Kids Heart Challenge assembly at Sweeny Elementary is encouraging heart-healthy behavior as students pledge to be more physically active, drink more water and eat better.
“‘We do some stations with ’em,” explained coach Blaine Cullen from McCulloch elementary school. “Dribbling basketballs, jumping rope, push-ups, sit ups, kinda focusing on stuff they can do at home by themselves if they needed to.”
The students exercise program is not just for their own health. They’re also raising money for the American Heart Association by getting pledges from family and friends for completing the challenge.
Over the years the Association has funded more than $4 billion in heart research that has helped save lives.
Lives like 8 year-old third grader Audrey Pearce, whose father Matt is the assistant superintendent of the Republic school district. When she was three months old, Audrey was diagnosed with a congenital birth defect that enlarged her heart and damaged her left ventricle.
She had three heart attacks before undergoing a heart transplant when she was four months old but Matt had many anxious moments wondering if his little girl would make it.
“We took a picture where I was holding Audrey and I was talking to the nurse and I said ‘I kinda get the feeling that I might not get to do this much more,'” he remembers. “She just looked grey and had no life in her body and you’re thinking ‘Are we ever going to come back from this?'”
The Pearce family got another scare when Audrey developed a form of cancer that sometimes occurs during an organ transplant. But the cancer is now in remission and Audrey is living a healthy life and enjoying a lot of athletic activities herself.
Matt’s experience though led him to get involved in the American Heart Association, joining the Midwest Board of Directors and promoting the Kids Heart Challenge in his schools.
“I hope that we’re helping kids make better choices at the dinner table and be more active he said. “But also remember that there are people that are going through those things and how can we give back and help them.”
The school says the children get excited about the estimate that for every $50 raised, a life can be saved.
That means with almost $20,000 dollars raised last year, the Republic school system alone affected 400 lives.