Dedicated to my father, Charles Shaneyfelt, who unexpectedly passed away on February 28, 2016–one month after sharing this heart story.
My youngest son, Charlie — now nine — spent his first birthday by his Granddaddy’s bedside at Vanderbilt Hospital. My Dad was awaiting a heart transplant that never came. Eight years later, we can testify that the journey has been a long one… but also a blessed one.
This is me… at Charlie’s age. I was a 4th grader, a Percy Priest Elementary “Tiger”. I found the old school photo in a box in my parents’ house last year.
And for one reason or another, out of all the papers my Mom could have saved from those elementary school years, one of them was this:
I remember my 4th grade year in particular. I was in Mrs. Kilcrease’s class and it was the year of the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, which took place only two days after this Jump Rope for Heart event. Little did I know how much this annual childhood P.E. event would mean to me 26 years later… when my father was in critical care at Vanderbilt Hospital waiting on a heart.
Following congestive heart failure, Dad’s hope for life was a transplant. But the match never came. Days away from death, my father was life-flighted to University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, where he underwent emergency surgery and received a Novacor LVAD heart pump… instead of a heart. The heart pump saved his life. And four years later in 2011, Dad underwent another grueling surgery and received his HeartMate, Dad’s second heart pump. The heart pump saved his life… again. And four years later in 2015, Dad underwent yet another frightening (and unexpected) surgery and received his third heart pump. The heart pump saved his life again… a third time.
My Dad, Charlie Shaneyfelt,
is the longest living heart pump recipient.
And so once again, in the month that we celebrate LOVE — with pink Valentines and chocolate hearts — Charlie will be jumping in Jump Rope for Heart, with great love and respect for his Granddaddy.
The story of my father’s journey over the course of the past nine years is a long one. It has truly been a journey of the heart… a lesson to learn and to share.
A lesson on Faith, granting us Peace, which gives us access to Grace… in which we are able to stand.
A lesson on boasting not in ourselves and in our own strength, but boasting in the hope of the glory of God.
His power, made perfect in our weakness.
A lesson in believing that in in our sufferings, we find glory.
Because suffering produces perseverance.
…You might say it has been a lesson in finding Holy in the midst of suffering.
And in some silly little way, the jump rope becomes holy when it is used in an act of love, in order to bring someone hope in their time of suffering. So that they can persevere…
So every year as this event comes around, I become nostalgic. I remember my own days in Mrs. Smith’s P.E. Class, playing “Heads-Up, 7Up”, roller skating in the cafeteria, and yes, Jumping Rope for Heart. I didn’t know it back then, but in a sense I was jumping rope for my own Daddy’s heart. And when my Mom collected money for the American Heart Association through neighborhood mailings and going door to door, Mom didn’t know that she was raising money for a cause that would prove to be significant years later in our family’s life, either.
So why does the jump rope (still) matter? To borrow from the AHA’s tagline, it matters because of life. Life is why™. It matters that children are still jumping and learning about cardiovascular disease and strokes, and how to make healthy lifestyle choices. The jump rope matters. It is a lifeline for education, stronger public health policies, lifesaving tools… and groundbreaking research funded through donations.
Charlie will be jumping again this year in HONOR of Granddaddy. If you would like to help continue the work of the American Heart Association, so that other children can jump in honor (or memory) of someone, Charlie’s Jump Page will be active until Friday, February 26. You can link to it by clicking his photo below. The jump rope matters to hundreds of thousands of faces out there. Here are just a couple of them.
So as another Jump Rope for Heart approaches, I will remember the lessons it has taught me–and hope that my children are listening, as well. From Percy Priest to DUNN, from childhood through adulthood, from dying to living… The Jump Rope Matters. And yes, LIFE is why.
“Above all else, guard your heart,
for it is the wellspring of life.”
~ Proverbs 4:23