Bledsoe Elementary School

Bledsoe Students Inspire Greater Awareness of Heart Health

Mar 27, 2015

Across Frisco ISD, students are jumping for joy, and better health, as part of the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart campaign, which raises funds for research to fight heart disease.

At Bledsoe Elementary, students are also jumping for fellow students, Madison and Gwen, both of whom have had multiple heart-related surgeries and may face more in the future.  

Gwen McKee’s heart abnormalities were caught at birth and she has had corrective procedures throughout her childhood. Her friend and neighbor, Madison Kent, had her heart issues discovered as a result of a 2014 tonsillectomy. Madison has had multiple surgeries during the last year.

Katie Kent, a Frisco ISD teacher, was shocked to discover that her daughter had serious heart issues.  Madison had always slept a lot, her hair hadn’t been as thick and glossy as one might have wanted, and she complained of leg pains. Physical education teacher Brian Erwin had also expressed concern about how pale Madison would become after running. She also had a lot of cavities, even with regular brushing. None of those individual concerns led anyone to suspect heart problems.

As soon as word of Madison’s condition became known, faculty and staff at Bledsoe encouraged Gwen’s mom, Gretchen McKee, to talk to Katie. The Kent family quickly became friends with the McKee family. They discovered they lived in the same neighborhood and that the girls were only one grade apart at Bledsoe. They share the same heart specialist. The moms are both from Ohio, as well. Madison has scars from her surgeries on her back and Gwen’s are on her chest, so there are some differences.

Kent and McKee are both strong advocates for parents asking pediatricians to be on the lookout for heart issues. Usually heart abnormalities are caught at birth, but if they are not children can suffer heart attacks as they age, usually during strenuous activities such as swimming or other sports.

Kent said that when Madison’s issues were discovered, doctors were not able to find a pulse in her legs. Her heart was not getting enough blood to her lower body. Kent says she was told that Madison might have had more extensive damage to her heart or even a fatal episode if the condition had gone undetected. She was seven years old when she was diagnosed with coarctation of the aorta and a bicuspid aortic valve.

She is now on “a cocktail of medications,” says her mom. “She had to learn to take pills.”

Madison also must have her blood pressure taken bi-weekly to ensure that her medications are effective and the correct doses. This is done at Bledsoe by school nurse Crystal Morris.

Gwen was born with an Atrioventricular Canal Defect, or a hole in both chambers of the heart, and a cleft in her mitral valve. She had multiple minor defects as well that came into play on her second and third surgeries. She developed a subaortic membrane with scar tissue on the mitral valve leading to a second surgery and then had the posterior leaflet of the mitral valve corrected in the third surgery as well as finding that the scar tissue had grown back, a condition called myxomatous mitral valve degeneration. Doctors are trying to avoid performing a heart valve replacement by working on her existing valve. In the last year, she also suffered a stroke-like event that she has had to work to bounce back from. She is still recovering.

Both girls say that the operations are scary, but that it isn’t so bad once they are over. It also means that both girls have to avoid getting sick, take lots of medicines and avoid certain foods. It is a challenge for both them and their parents.

Neither one of the girls is shy about talking about their health adventures, though when it comes to Jump Rope for Heart, they are more excited about the amount of “survivor ducks” they have accumulated during the fundraiser contest.

“I love everybody who donated,” Gwen said, with Madison adding a big “Yeah!”  to that statement.

“Kids don’t like to be different,” McKee said, but Jump Rope for Heart is a time for Madison and Gwen to help educate their classmates. Jump Rope for Heart makes the two girls feel special.

“This shows the girls they have the support of the whole community and some amazing friends,” Kent said.

As a result of her child’s health issues, McKee encourages parents to ask doctors to take blood pressure readings during routine exams. It is not something most doctors do during a child’s check-up. She considers it her life-long mission to raise awareness about heart disease in children.

“One in 100 children have heart problems,” she said. “At Bledsoe, there are five students that we know of and it was six until one child moved away. If heart issues are not diagnosed, children often die suddenly when they get older.”

This year’s theme for Jump Rope for Heart is “It Takes a Hero.” Leading up to the event, Coach Erwin explained to his students that the program has been going for years and has led to great advances in treatment, prevention and diagnosis of heart disease. He participated in the program when he was in school. He told students his father recently underwent heart surgery and was able to go home in one day, which was a major leap from years past when heart surgery meant long hospital stays.

Bledsoe students raised $14,700 during their Jump Rope for Heart event – and their initial goal was $12,000. They are heroes for many children and adults, but most of all to Gwen and Madison.