Eleven-year-old Bran Lackey was born with a serious heart defect but he has still jumped his way to raising more than $80,000 through Jump Rope For Heart, including $25,000 this year.

Although Bran’s current school doesn’t participate in the fundraiser, the fifth-grader has been donating the proceeds from his efforts to public schools in his native Dallas so they can buy physical education equipment.

On Friday, the American Heart Association presented a $2,500 check to Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary, the school’s portion of the money Bran raised during this year’s event. Money will go toward funding extra P.E. equipment.

Karen Burnell, coordinated school health specialist for the Dallas Independent School District, called Bran’s fundraising totals “phenomenal” and said DISD is “fortunate to be a part of Bran’s gratitude and perseverance.”

“The fact that he wants to go out and make a difference for other people and help raise money to fight a condition that he has, I think that is just amazing,” Burnell said.

“I don’t want kids to suffer like I did,” said Bran, who’s been doing Jump Rope For Heart for four years. “I want to help them.”

Bran’s parents found out about their son’s special heart within an hour of his birth. He was diagnosed with the most extreme form of Tetralogy of Fallot, called Pulmonary Atresia. Since he had no pulmonary valve, blood couldn’t flow from the right ventricle into the pulmonary artery and onto the lungs. Bran had to have an immediate repair to his heart. His first surgery at two days old, failed 19 days later. The other surgery happened at 21 days old and was successful.

At 18 months, a team of surgeons operated for eight hours to fix Bran’s complex set of heart problems.  They reconstructed his pulmonary artery, created a fourth chamber in his heart and replaced some of the cardiac arteries that were so underdeveloped they looked like strings.

“They replaced everything with diameters, basically much bigger than an 18-month-old would have, but wide enough to sustain him to grow,” explained his mother, Leti Lackey.

In fact, the arteries have expanded so well with the growth of his heart that Bran has not had to undergo another surgery. Doctors had cautioned the family that Bran would likely need multiple surgeries by the age of 16. He is due for his annual visit to the cardiologist to see what lies ahead in the coming year.

“They said it’s the closest to a miracle, if not a miracle, that they’ve ever seen,” Leti Lackey said.4-24-2015 2-33-14 PM_0017

So, when Bran asks friends and family to donate to Jump Rope For Heart to help the AHA keep funding research to learn more about the heart and how to fix it, he’s speaking from his own heart.

“It’s amazing the reaction we’ve gotten from everybody, and it all stems from this little guy,” his mother said. “We’ve had donations from $20 to $5,000.”

In his first year, Bran raised $13,950.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said, adding his favorite way to jump rope is crisscross.

The next year, in 2013, donations increased to $15,625. Last year, donations soared to $26,000 thanks in part to a $5,000 contribution from the owner of the company where Leti Lackey works.

4-24-2015 2-28-52 PM_0004This year, Bran set his sights even higher – not the modest increase that had been suggested. He hoped to raise $50,000.

“We didn’t make it,” Leti Lackey said, “but what’s great, we were talking about it, and he said, ‘Mom, that means we need to have that goal for next year.’”

Having a son born with a congenital heart defect was very scary, and this mother doesn’t want other parents and children to go through the same thing. She is proud her son keeps giving back to help fund research, science and education. She thinks Jump Rope for Heart is the perfect match.

“This is great because it kind of combines both things,” she said. “The audience is children and their goal is to educate them to be active, be healthy. Every child should have the opportunity.”

Photos by Katie Fairbank