Photo of Darren and Reghan Haynes

Darren and Reghan Haynes

As the daughter of a flight paramedic and an intensive-care nurse, Reghan Haynes has grown up with a keen devotion to improving and saving lives. Given her own chance to help as a third-grader, Reghan became her elementary school’s top fundraiser in the Jump Rope For Heart event.

Reghan is now a fifth-grader at O’Loughlin Elementary School in Hays, Kan., and the event has taken on a much greater significance for her. Because on Aug. 7, her dad, Darren Haynes, died in his sleep from an undiagnosed heart defect.

“I know that he’s smiling down on us and so proud that we’re helping save other people’s lives,” Reghan said.

Having raised $306 two years ago, Reghan set her goal for this year at $400. When donations came rushing in, she bumped her aim to $1,000. As of Thursday night, she was at $4,529 and still climbing. The amazing response to her story has prompted school officials to keep her fundraising window open until  March 16. (Click here to visit Reghan’s online donations page; please note, tally does not include all offline donations.)

“It makes me feel happy because it shows that no one is too small to make a difference in the world,” Reghan said.

Darren and Chrissy Haynes had two daughters (11-year-old Reghan, and 7-year-old Briley) and a happy, active life. A week before Darren died, he and Chrissy went hiking and mountain biking in Colorado. He was about to turn 39, and had been saving lives ever since graduating high school, spending seven years as a paramedic, then 13 years as a flight paramedic.

Photo of Darren, Briley and Reghan on Father's Day 2013

Darren, Briley and Reghan on Father’s Day 2013

In addition to his vigorous career and energetic lifestyle, Darren never had any symptoms of heart problems.

“It was a complete shock,” Chrissy said.

An autopsy showed Darren’s right coronary artery was only one-tenth as big as it should have been. Doctors told Chrissy that Darren was born with the problem. They added that most people with it have no idea until their 30s or 40s, and that it is often discovered only upon an autopsy. Standard heart testing, such as EKGs, echocardiograms and other lab work, wouldn’t have revealed the condition. It would have taken a catheterization procedure to find it and an implantable defibrillator to prevent his death, doctors told her.

Many of the people whose lives Darren saved have donated to Reghan’s campaign. Her online fundraising page features a picture of Darren, and the scrolling list of donors shows several bold-faced mentions of “In Memory Of Darren Haynes.”

Photo of Chrissy and Darren in Colorado, a week before he died

Chrissy and Darren in Colorado, a week before he died

Chrissy said she and Darren occasionally shared with their girls stories about their work. Since Darren died, they’ve had more conversations about the importance of heart health and CPR

“Now we talk about what we should do if Mommy or Grandma or Nana was unresponsive and talk about the importance of CPR all the time,” Chrissy said.

This Saturday, Chrissy is taking the girls to a community CPR class at the local hospital.

Jump Rope For Heart is an in-school fundraiser sponsored by the American Heart Association and the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. The event is held at more than 36,000 schools nationwide, with Reghan’s school participating in 3rd, 4th and 5th grades. All funds raised help pay for research and educational programs to prevent and treat heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer.

After Reghan’s school-best effort in her debut, she scaled back last year because the event coincided with a regional dance competition. She participated in Jump Rope For Heart, but didn’t focus on fundraising.

This year, of course, she’s leading the way again – at O’Loughlin and everywhere her touching story is heard.

“Reghan loved her Daddy and this is such a nice tribute to him,” Chrissy said. “We do anything we can to keep his memory alive.”

Photo of Haynes Family

Haynes Family

Photos courtesy of Chrissy Haynes