By Ryan Cornell
STEPHENS CITY -- Students at Bass-Hoover Elementary School learned a firsthand lesson in the subject of philanthropy right before the holiday season.
Over the past two weeks, the school's 575 students donated more than $3,000 to help fund the open heart surgery for one of their own kindergartners.
The kindergartner, 5-year-old Andrew Sayen, was born with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary disease that causes the heart muscle to enlarge.
His mother, Rhonda Sayen, who describes Andrew as very outgoing and active, said the condition is typically diagnosed in teenagers, but because Andrew was born with severe hypertrophy, he has been monitored every six months since birth by pediatric cardiologists at the University of Virginia.
She said his heart has grown so thick that it creates too much pressure and is at the point where surgery is needed. Noting that the disease is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in athletes, she said he'll never be able to play football, which Andrew enjoys watching, or any competitive sport.
Andrew will undergo surgery while at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., from Feb. 4 to 15. Sayen said the money raised by the school will go toward paying for the airfare used to get there and lodging.
She said that in the past 18 years, less than 50 of these surgeries have been performed on children younger than 10, and a major reason why they chose the doctor at the Mayo Clinic was because of his prior experience in performing the surgery.
The open heart surgery, called a septal myectomy, will remove excess muscle from Andrew's left ventricle. Andrew will be put on a bypass machine during the operation, which takes between four and six hours.
After three days of preliminary testing and the surgery itself, Andrew will stay in the hospital for five to seven days. Once back in Virginia, he'll stay at home recovering for six to eight weeks.
Sayen said the surgery is a "temporary fix" that will help him until he needs to receive a heart transplant later in life.
Dawn Seymour, physical education teacher and head of concerns at Bass-Hoover, said the school's teachers decided to help Andrew by wearing their jeans to school and donating about $400 for him.
She said the other physical education teacher suggested that they get the students involved and the two spent Thanksgiving break brainstorming ideas. An idea was soon formed to model the fundraiser after "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" with each dollar translating into a vote, which could be used to select which school staff member dresses up as a character from the story.
"Somehow, it has taken off that Mr. Strong, the principal, the kids just want to see him as Cindy Lou," Seymour said. "He is so far ahead that this man is coming to school in a pink nightgown on Thursday."
She said it seemed reasonable to try to expect less than a dollar per student and placed her initial goal at $500.
On Dec. 3, the first day of the campaign, the school collected $280. The school raised an additional $553 on the second day, netting the total after two days to $833. She said the school raised more than $500 each day for the next three days.
As of Tuesday, the campaign funds were at $3,055.46.
"Kids coming in with buckets of change that their dad empties his pockets into," she said. "You know, you have to pick out nuts and bolts and stuff, but it was like, kids bringing in over $100.
"A first grader came in, his mother had given him a dollar for Wednesday ice cream day, which is a big deal in elementary school, and he was like, 'Can I spend this dollar on Andrew's heart? I think his heart needs it more than I need ice cream.' Stuff like that really touches your heart."
Sayen said she didn't even know about the campaign until she received a flyer on the second day of the campaign that was given to all of the students.
"I fell out of my chair, literally fell out of my chair," she said.
"It's been amazing. Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever asked for a better community to move to."
A diagram of a heart, which has been used to chart the progress of the campaign, covers a wall at the school from floor to ceiling in red paint.
In addition to the reward of seeing teachers dressed up as characters from a Dr. Seuss book, the class that donates the most gets 30 minutes of extra physical education time.
"That whole thing got lost," Seymour said. "They haven't even asked and usually they do, because kids love free P.E. days."
When Sayen asked her son if he had gotten more friends as a result of the campaign, he told her, "All my class is my friends."
"He's been around these kids for a long time," she said.
People can donate money toward Andrew's surgery at gofundme.com by typing in "Andrew Sayen." For more information about hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, visit 4hcm.org.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org