NORWOOD PARK — Patricia Hobbs was walking her 29 first-grade students back to their classroom at Oriole Park Elementary School after watching them jump rope and hula hoop to raise money for the American Heart Association when she realized she was short of breath.
"I just couldn't breathe," Hobbs, 56, said, recalling the events of Valentine's Day 2011. "I thought I had pneumonia and didn't think much of it. But that night, I ended up in the emergency room."
Doctors told Hobbs her heart was only pumping half as much blood as it should, shocking the teacher who had spent more than 20 years in a variety of positions at the Norwood Park school.
"I tried to keep working, but I got weaker and weaker," said Hobbs, who has not been able to return to the classroom because of complications caused by her heart problems.
Schools that participate in the national program typically raise about $2,500, said Allison Neswold, Youth Market Director for the Midwest Affiliate of the American Heart Association.
"Oriole Park is a stellar school," Neswold said.
Hobbs said she almost cried when the school announced they had surpassed their $10,000 goal for this year's fundraiser.
"This means so much for me," Hobbs said. "It is the most amazing thing. It really goes beyond words."
All 660 students participate in the two-day event held at the nearby Oriole Park field house, since all of the students won't fit in the overcrowded school's gym.
Mary Rodriguez, a physical education teacher, said the school has raised more money each year since she began organizing the fundraiser in 2007 with fellow physical education teacher Christina Bender.
"What happened to Mrs. Hobbs really brings it home to the students," Rodriguez said. "She really has a special place in our hearts."
Rodriguez encourages students to bring in pictures of friends and relatives who have suffered from heart disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"It is a good incentive for the kids," said Rodriguez, whose uncle and godfather suffered from heart disease-related illnesses. "They really do get it."
Hobbs said she still hopes to return to teaching, even though a heart transplant might be in her future.
"My heart may be a fixer-upper," Hobb said. "But Oriole Park Elementary School students put more than a Band-Aid on my heart."