Since 2016, 3-year-old Finn Blumenthal and his mom, Kelly, have helped local schools raise funds for the American Heart Association through the Jump Rope for Heart challenge.

This year, they got exciting news—AHA selected Finn to be a national ambassador for the program, now in its 40th year and renamed Kids Heart Challenge to emphasize fitness challenge possibilities beyond jumping rope. 

"We've been doing it all these years never thinking anything like this would happen," Kelly Blumenthal said. "We're just so surprised and excited."

Finn, who will turn 4 in January, was born with multiple congenital heart defects. He underwent one open heart surgery as an infant and another in September 2017, which Blumenthal said last year would hopefully set his heart up to function until adulthood. 

"We just had his one year post-op appointment and [his heart] looked exactly like where they left it a year ago, which is what we want to hear. So that's great," Blumenthal said Tuesday. 

Having a well-functioning heart means Finn can start preparing to enter preschool next fall. That means this is the last year he will be able to help with AHA fundraising efforts. 

So the news about Finn's selection as ambassador for Kids Heart Challenge came at a perfect time, Blumenthal said. 

"[Finn's picture is] on every email that parents and faculty get [about the program], every pamphlet that gets sent home," she said. "He's also on all of [AHA's] promotional stuff and on the main American Heart Association site. It's crazy."

The Kids Heart Challenge encourages heart-healthy behavior as students pledge to be more physically active, drink more water and do a good deed. The program can be tailored to adults as well for challenges in workplaces.

AHA has named one of the program's mascots—a shark, which happens to be Finn's favorite animal—after him.

"They planned it not knowing the Baby Shark song would go crazy," Blumenthal said with a laugh. "Finn the Shark will be a permanent character."

And Finn the Shark will introduce a new lesson for the Kids Heart Challenge—the importance to heart health of being kind. 

"Stress literally kills people, and American Heart wants to focus on not just 'feed yourself right' and 'avoid salt' but spreading kindness as well," Blumenthal said. "It's overall wellness, not just the beating of your heart but how you treat your heart."

Blumenthal said she feels that "spreading kindness" is the perfect mission for Finn. 

"It couldn't be more perfect," she said. "Even when Finn was a baby and I was in the hospital room with him, even though he was fighting for his life, we were still on the phone trying to do fundraisers for others."

"There will always be people fighting more than you and less than you, and if you can do something you need to."

Blumenthal said raising awareness of heart health is even more important than raising funds. She said she has loved being able to help and support local parents of "heart heroes" through her Facebook page "Prayers for Finn" and is excited to be able to help more families on a national scale and "let them know they can give back, too."

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Adele Uphaus-Conner: 540/735-1973

auphaus@freelancestar.com

@flsadele

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