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Hayward school raises $100,000 to fight heart disease

Tara Eckes, 7, had a special motivator to raise $1,110 in Hayward Primary School’s effort to fight heart disease: her 4-year-old brother Cole, who needed heart surgery to remove a large tumor.

Hayward Primary School did it.

With nearly everyone from the Northwestern Wisconsin town pitching in, the school raised more than $100,000 through Jump Rope for Heart, a fundraiser for the American Heart Association.

The goal sounded unlikely when Dave Dixon, the school’s physical education teacher and event coordinator, set it earlier this year. No school had raised $100,000 in the 35-year history of the event. Hayward had the fifth-best total in the nation the year before: $47,900.

The average amount raised by a school is $3,200, said Renee M. Davis, youth market director for the American Heart Association in 30 northern Wisconsin counties.

Davis was mailing off the last checks to the national organization recently, in plenty of time for June 30, the end of its fiscal year. She tallied the total raised at $100,500, give or take a few dollars.

Tara Eckes raised more than some schools all by herself.

The 7-year-old, who was in first grade at Hayward Primary School this year, raised $2,435, more than anyone else in the school. This was her second year as the lead fundraiser; as a kindergartener, she raised $1,110.

Tara had a special motivation: her little brother Cole.

Cole was just 12 weeks old when it was discovered he had a massive tumor on his left ventricle, said his mother, Kylah Eckes. Because he was so little, it was

decided that surgery would be too risky. But his parents, Kylah and Zac, were equipped with an automated external defibrillator, or AED, just in case.

Zac Eckes had to perform CPR, and use the defibrillator, when Cole went into cardiac arrest at just 7 months old. He was taken to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis, where he again went into cardiac arrest.

“Fifty-five minutes of shocking and life support,” his mother recalled.

It was decided that leaving the tumor was more dangerous that removing it, so it was removed on Tara’s fourth birthday. The family was at Children’s for 56 days.

Tara saw a lot during that time, Kylah said.

“We taught Tara the importance of giving back and helping others because so many people came together to help our family when we needed it,” she wrote in an email.

The results were good.

Cole, now 4, is “in very good health,” Kylah said. “He’s a normal guy who runs around and smashes toy trucks and torments his older sister and his younger sister (Ayda, 2).”

“Tara and Cole have a very, very special bond,” added Kylah, who is a counselor at Hayward High School.

At least one other school broke the $100,000 barrier this year: French River Elementary in Brighton, N.Y. That school has been the top fundraiser for 15 years and appears set to hold the title again this year, Davis said.

“The other school probably has more kids in their school than Hayward has in their whole community,” Davis said.

Well, not quite. French River Elementary, with only grades three through five, has 774 students; Hayward’s population is 2,323. But Brighton, a suburb of Rochester, has a population of 36,609.

Community efforts in Hayward included two snowmobile runs, a “red dress gala” sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, and a golf outing on May 10 that brought in $7,000, said Davis, who is based in Eau Claire.

Major sponsors — Jack Link’s of Minong, the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe and Essentia Health — also played big roles, Kylah Eckes said.

But the primary effort involved schoolchildren raising money and jumping ropes. The motivation starts with Dixon, Davis said.

“Honestly, he does not talk about the money that much with (the kids),” Davis said. “He lets them know why they’re doing it. Those kids do it because they want to help people.”

In an email, Kylah Eckes added a postscript to Cole’s story.

She and Zac had long hoped that what Cole had gone through would help someone else down the road, she wrote. During his last checkup at Children’s, they learned that a 14-month-old boy was going through surgery to remove a massive tumor just like Cole’s.

“We were so happy to hear that the specialists were using all of Cole’s records to guide them in helping another little boy,” she wrote.