Michael Feldman remembers the warning he heard as a boy whenever he tried to wrestle with his cousin or involve her in active games. Sandy had a mild case of cerebral palsy, and her parents were afraid that any physical activity would be dangerous to her. As it turns out, their caution did more harm than good.
"Her parents crippled her," Michael said. "Now she's a 40-year-old adult who doesn't do anything."
Michael is determined not to make the same mistake with his daughter.
Jamie has a heart condition, but she hikes, dances, goes cross-country skiing and takes P.E. alongside the other 13-year-olds at her school.
"We have never limited her," Michael said. But her parents don't push her into activities that are too strenuous, either. "Jamie, you do what you can do," they tell her. "If you can't do it, that's OK."
Jamie was born with four heart defects. Although the most serious problems were corrected through surgery when she was an infant, her heart is enlarged, and one valve leaks. Eventually, the valve will need to be replaced, but the Feldmans are postponing the surgery as long as possible while she is still growing. She was only 4 or 5 when the problem was discovered, and replacing the valve at that time would have meant repeating the surgery every two years as she grew.
"That wasn't much of an option for us," Michael said. Although doctors keep expecting her condition to worsen, her heart is functioning adequately for now, and the surgery continues to be on hold.In the meantime, Jamie's condition is carefully monitored by cardiologists at Phoenix Children's Hospital. Once a month, her pacemaker is checked via electronic transmission (using her home telephone), and twice a year she visits the clinic for a thorough heart exam.
People are often surprised to learn about Jamie's condition. When she was in the 7th grade, her P.E. teacher seemed determined to toughen up his group of "wimpy" pre-teens with rigorous exercise. After Jamie came home from school one afternoon exhausted, her father met with the teacher to inform him of his daughter's condition.
"He was absolutely shocked," Michael said. Her enthusiastic participation in class offered no clue that she had any kind of health problem. Besides that, it had never occurred to the teacher that a child would have a heart condition.
Although Jamie is able to function normally for the most part, she does have to take special precautions. A simple infection could travel to the tissue around her heart, with dangerous results. For protection, she takes antibiotics before simple medical procedures, such as having her teeth cleaned at the dentist's office. When numerous cavities were discovered during a dental appointment a couple of years ago, she had the fillings done by an oral surgeon at PCH, just to be safe.
Common illnesses can also lead to trouble, but Jamie is almost never sick - even during times when the rest of her family is battling colds or the flu.
Still, Jamie manages to wind up in the hospital about once a year, with cardiac arrhythmia. "Her heart starts racing 200 to 240 beats per minute," Michael said. "It scares everybody to death."
Usually, medication can bring the heart back to a normal rhythm, although sometimes more drastic measures are necessary. In one frightening instance last spring, doctors had to use electrocardio-conversion to shock Jamie's heart back to its normal pace. (She was unconscious at the time.) After a few days in the hospital, she was back to her normal routine.
Jamie has few limitations, as evidenced by her active life and the President's Physical Fitness Award she received proudly at school.
"She's a great kid," her father said. "She's a tough kid, too."