WELLSBURG - For the last 16 years children at Franklin Primary School lift their arms, legs and jump ropes to raise money for the American Heart Association.
Their physical education teacher, Dave Secrist, will tell you they put a lot of energy into the endeavor, but this year the activity hit a little closer to, well, their hearts. That's because 5-year-old Ty Lallone, a kindergartener at the school, will undergo surgery later this year for a congenital heart defect.
He is one of many the American Heart Association aims to help through its efforts to reduce disability and death from heart disease and stroke through education and research.
ALL HEART — Dave Secrist, physical education teacher at Franklin Primary School, and Ty Lallone, a kindergartener at the school who was born with a congenital heart defect, spoke to pupils at the school as they prepared to jump rope in his honor as part of the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart campaign. To their right is Jonathan Lallone, Ty’s dad. -- Warren Scott
Ty's father, Jonathan, said he and his wife, Courtney, took Ty to his pediatrician for a routine checkup when he was 4 months old and as the doctor listened to his heart, he heard a ticking sound.
The doctor's concerns led Ty's parents to take him to a cardiologist, who discovered Ty had a heart valve defect.
"She said it was by the grace of God that we found it because it (the defect) doesn't make a sound," Jonathan said.
At first glance the unusual heart condition doesn't appear to have affected Ty. He is as wide-eyed and exuberant as most kindergarteners and counts playing video games with his father among his favorite activities.
"You'd never tell by looking at him," Jonathan said, but he added Ty isn't permitted to play sports and must avoid getting over-excited.
The Lallones cautiously watch for signs that Ty has overexerted himself, such as shortness of breath, and report anything unusal to his cardiologist, whom he visits every six months.
Though Ty couldn't jump rope himself, Secrist wanted him to take part in a big way so he named him assistant physical education teacher and gave Ty his own whistle.
"As a gym teacher, you've got to have a whistle," Secrist noted.
It was a special weekend for Ty, who also attended the Ohio Valley Heart Ball Saturday with his family, including his sister Kirsten, which have been named the Open Your Heart Family by regional representatives of the American Heart Association.
The family has raised nearly $1,500 for the cause through participation in the last two years in the Ohio Valley Heart Walk.
Jonathan Lallone said he is grateful for the efforts of everyone at Franklin Primary School.
As he watched Ty at the front of the gym, he said, "This is awesome. What they have done for Ty today - this school has really gone above and beyond for him."
Pupils at Franklin sought sponsorships from parents, family members and others for their jump roping, raising approximately $4,200 for the American Heart Association and received rubber bracelets with Ty's name from the school's Parent-Teacher-Student Association and jump ropes to take home from Skylar Williams, a student teacher from Bethany College.
Ty's classmates in Penny Merkel's kindergarten room and other fellow kindergarteners in Amy Unger's class went a little further, collecting $281.59 in pennies.
Merkel, Unger and their aides, Wendy Willis and Teresa Fithyan, joined the children in presenting the money during Friday's activities.
Willis said the compassion shown toward Ty is no surprise as she received excellent support from staff and pupils while she was battling cancer last year.
"This is a great school," she said.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com)