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Mikey Grover is your typical 3-year-old.
He loves music, his sisters and gets cranky when he’s tired. He reaches for mom and dad when he gets shy. And Wednesday, he started preschool at the Early Learning Center in North Attleboro for the first time.
But Mikey also has a rare heart disease that has left his childhood a little different than most.
Hypoplastic left heart syndrome left part of his heart severely undeveloped when he was born, and Mikey was also diagnosed with heterotaxy — meaning his major organs are on the opposite side of his body.
He spends a lot of time in the hospital and has already undergone two open heart surgeries. Several more are likely ahead, even as the future of his care is unpredictable.
So his family knows heart disease. And they want others to become more aware as well.
“There’s no cure for what he has, so we’re trying to promote awareness any way we can,” his mother Julie Grover said at North Attleboro Middle School Wednesday afternoon.
Grover, who also has three “heart healthy” daughters in North Attleboro schools, said before her son’s condition she thought heart disease only happened to older people. Now it’s her entire life.
“You don’t think it will happen to you until it does,” she said. We found out when we were pregnant, but we still didn’t believe it until he was born. And there’s no reason he has it or no answer why. So now we’re just kind of waiting to see how he does.”
And while they wait, Grover and her family are diving into awareness efforts. Her daughter Summer was one of the top five fundraisers for the middle school’s Hoops for Heart program, where students learn about physical activity and heart health each year while fundraising and promoting research through the American Heart Association.
“My daughters and Mikey are smart, bright, caring, curious kids,” Grover wrote on a Facebook post Tuesday advertising the middle school’s event. “Let’s keep them inspired. They could be the ones with the cure.”
Physical education teacher Jason Feid thought of a good way to do just that.
After seeing Grover’s post, he invited the small 3-year-old out onto the basketball court at North Attleboro Middle School Wednesday to kick off a 20th anniversary celebration of the school’s participation in Hoops for Heart.
And North Attleboro has a lot to celebrate.
In 1999, Hoops for Heart in North Attleboro kicked off with 30 students and $600 raised, Feid said.
Twenty years later top student fundraisers individually collected more than that just by themselves. The school as a whole raised $64,000 this year.
And North Attleboro holds state, region and national records for the largest amount raised by a single event ($110,000 in 2015) and the most money raised in total by a single school.
In 19 years, 11,883 students have raised about $1.2 million for the organization.
This year eighth grader Zach Meyer took the ninth top fundraiser with $375 raised.
“I just think it’s a really fun event,” the 13-year-old said. “It reminds you if you keep your heart healthy you’ll be able to prevent heart attacks and other issues. It’s important.”
Abby Camelio took fourth place with $800 raised. Her motivation?
“I like winning things,” the 14-year-old laughed. “Every year since sixth grade I wanted to be the top raiser and raise a lot of money.”
And she has. Her first year she raised over $700. Last year the eighth grader raised $845.
But there’s an added bonus.
“It helps people,” she said.
Wednesday was about celebrating all of that, but so much more, Feid said.
He honored Jerry Espinosa, a volunteer coach and personal trainer who helped out at Hoops for Heart for many years before he died in October of two blocked arteries.
“He was fit and healthy,” his wife Teris said Wednesday. So Jerry, just 55, never thought to get a stress test.
“If he would’ve had a stress test, maybe he could’ve put stents in,” she said. “There needs to be more awareness of heart disease and more awareness that it’s not just if you’re unfit.”
Teris and her son Brian continued Jerry’s tradition of volunteering for the event with a station representing their North Attleboro personal training business Fitness Together.
“Jerry was always here,” she said.
But Wednesday was also about celebrating the future of research and innovation that North Attleboro students have made such a large contribution to.
“We’re here to celebrate life,” Feid said. “Somewhere in this room, somebody has someone in their life who is affected by heart disease.
“Put Mikey in your memory,” he added before releasing students to pick-up basketball games and other health-related activities. “That’s why we’re here today.”
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