COLE COUNTY — One in four children, typically, under the age of five are diagnosed with a heart condition every year.
Heart disease is the number one killer in Missouri and nationwide, killing more people, including young children, than all cancers combined.
The American Heart Association kicked off a local event in Cole County to bring awareness to the disease in young children's lives.
The Kids Heart Challenge is an event that provides education and awareness resources to schools to improve awareness and health for students and their school community while raising donations for the American Heart Association to fund research and education.
This was its 40th year in schools inspiring students to learn, teach and help others live longer, healthier lives.
Each event, the American Heart Association showcases a child in the community that had been diagnosed with a heart condition. This year, the event showcased a 6-year-old boy named Jase, who was in kindergarten at Blair Oaks Elementary School.
Before Jase was born, his doctors began to notice that something was very wrong with his heart. His mom, Leann Higgins, was told that her son's chances of survival were "grim" and that he essentially only had half of a functioning heart. Jase's doctors believed that through three open heart surgeries there was a chance they could correct his heart. Following Jase's birth, he spent the majority of his first year fighting his heart condition and experiencing many complications with his heart and surgeries.
After multiple surgeries and a few close calls, Jase was able to pull through and made it through his first year of life beating all the odds.
"It was truly a miracle that he pulled through," his mom emotionally said. "He was airlifted twice, coded more times than I care to remember...I have stories for days, but I am so grateful for my miracle boy."
Higgins said that following all of his surgeries, Jase was eventually able to go home where he relied on feeding tubes and oxygen. However, those days are now behind Jase and his family as he was recognized as a local heart hero Wednesday morning.
In a nationwide event, the American Heart Association recognizes children who are diagnosed with a heart condition.
At the challenge, the students are invited to learn the heart health lessons, participate in heart health activities, take the Challenge and help others. Wednesday morning's challenge at Blair Oaks was the 16th year the school had participated in the challenge.
The American Heart Association said the challenge is important because it shows children that heart disease is not just a disease that happens in "old people" but that impacts thousands of children each year.
During the event, the Kids Heart Challenge offers four activities to get students’ hearts pumping:
Funds raised by the Kids Heart Challenge supports advocacy initiatives to keep physical education in schools, ensures kids have access to healthy foods and provides resources to advocate for CPR in school laws that ensure every student knows how to save a life. Since 1949, the Association has funded $4.1 billion in research since 1949 and currently funds 2,000 scientists around the United States.
For more information on the Kids Heart Challenge click here: http://american.heart.org/kidsheartchallenge/
Web exclusive interview with Leann Higgins, Jase's mom:
Web exclusive interview with the Blair Oaks Physical Education Coach Matt Albers: