By honoring his little sister, this brother hopes he's helping others too.
Anthony Jacobsmeyer was five-and-a-half years old when his mom and dad left for Las Vegas with his six-week-old sister. "The doctors told us 'she needs to have surgery or she won't survive,'" explains mom Natalie Jacobsmeyer. "But they also weren't sure if she'd survive even with the surgery."
Jennifer, who was born with a very large hole in the center of her heart
, was in the hospital for nearly three months. Half the time, she was on life support. Several days before her open-heart surgery,
she went into respiratory failure. "Conditions for the surgery weren't optimal. Jennifer had pneumonia and her weight was too low," explains Natalie. "The doctors wanted her to weigh 12 pounds, but she only made it to seven."
Natalie and Robert Jacobsmeyer watched over their baby daughter every minute of the day, only leaving Jennifer's bedside from midnight to 7 a.m. Anthony, his 4-year-old sister, Amanda, and younger brother, Garrett, age 2, remained in Overton, Nevada where they were cared for by their grandparents and close neighbors. Anthony, meanwhile, continued on at Grant Bowler Elementary School where he was a kindergartener.
"I was scared," remembers Anthony. "I was crying a lot, but I couldn't say why."
"He was the only one of our kids who grasped how sick she really was," explains Natalie. "We didn't keep anything from them. We told them we needed to be really prayerful and cherish the time we had with her."
Anthony got to visit his baby sister three times while she was in the hospital. These visits-and her subsequent recovery-had a big impact on him.Five years later, Anthony admits he still "worries a lot" about his little sister.
Natalie says, "He probably spoils her more than the rest of us do." But when asked about the thoughtful, serious demeanor of her eldest son--who has read every book in the Harry Potter series at least four times--she laughs, "Oh, don't be fooled…he's not always so quiet!"
The straight-A student, who likes math best, aspires to be a heart surgeon. "Since the first grade he's had this goal of being a heart surgeon," says Natalie. "And every year, it's the same. He's never wavered."
First grade was also the first year that Anthony participated in Jump Rope for Heart
, a fund-raising program that supports cardiovascular research. Co-sponsored by the American Heart Association and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Jump Rope for Heart also helps children understand the importance of a heart-healthy lifestyle
and the value of community service.
For five years in a row, Anthony has raised more money than anyone else in his school. During the last school year, he collected $534, a personal best. The hardest part about Jump Rope for Heart, he says, is "going out and getting the money. The best part is "getting the money to help kids like my sister.""He's not motivated by the prizes," confirms his mother.
When Anthony heads off to Mack Lyon Middle School this fall, he hopes to help persuade his new school to participate in Jump Rope for Heart. If not, he plans to lead fund-raising efforts at his alma mater.
Now Jennifer is five-and-a-half years old--the same age Anthony was when he watched her leave Overton, possibly never to return. The youngest Jacobsmeyer doesn't appear to have a care in the world. "She may need a valve replacement
in the future," says Natalie, "but for now it's only a medium-range condition." Purple is Jennifer's favorite color and "playing on the playground" is her favorite thing to do.
"She also likes to lift up her shirt and show everybody her scar and her 'second' bellybutton," says Anthony, who doesn't sound amused at his little sister's antics. This 'second' bellybutton, he explains, is where her feeding tube used to be--so she could get food the first year she came home from the hospital. (Jennifer was born with several birth defects that went undetected until she was six weeks old.)
Then there's a bit of pride in Anthony's voice: "She's very, very energetic. You'd never know she has a heart defect."How to be Successful
Ask people you know.
Try as hard as you can.
--Advice from Jump Rope for Heart participant Anthony Jacobsmeyer, Grant Bowler Elementary School's top fundraiser for five straight years.