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Leap of faith

by DEVIN WEEKS
Staff Writer | August 14, 2020 1:07 AM

Navy vet recovering from heart attacks to skydive for 9/11 responders, fellow vets on Sept. 11

Dave Sheldon has always had a big heart — a heart for his neighbors, his country, military veterans and for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country.

His big patriotic heart almost stopped beating in June when Sheldon had two consecutive heart attacks and found himself on the operating table, undergoing a quadruple bypass to keep that ticker ticking.

Ironically, he had been having chest pains and had already scheduled an appointment with his cardiologist for the following week.

"I told the surgeon the next day, 'I’ve got an appointment with the cardiologist this coming Wednesday,’" Sheldon said. "And he said, ‘You wouldn’t have made it to Wednesday.' I was like, 'Holy cow, I cut it close huh?'"

This was the first time that 20-year Navy veteran Sheldon, 67, had ever been admitted to a hospital.

"Being a chief petty officer in the Navy, I'm used to being in control and telling everyone else to do, and there I was with no control," he said. "It's like, go big or go home, right?"

Or, how about up?

Sheldon's eyes were opened by these back-to-back heart attacks. He's decided to face a lifelong fear and jump out of an airplane on Sept. 11.

And he'll be bringing with him 12,000 feet into the air two causes that are close to his now scuffed — but still big and beating — heart: 9/11 Health Watch and Newby-ginnings of North Idaho.

"Originally, I was going to jump out of a plane just to do it, and face my fear of heights and cross it off my bucket list since I came so close to croakin’ on the 10th and 11th of June,” he said Thursday, seated in his favorite recliner in his Hayden home.

"So many people were affected by 9/11," Sheldon said. "It wasn’t just the 3,000 people who died that day, and their families. It’s all those people who were on the pile and working for so long, and that thing burned for so long. And so many of those first-responders and volunteers who came from all over the country died as a result of that, they got cancer and what have you.

“It’s for all those survivors."

The nonprofit 9/11 Health Watch Inc. is dedicated to making sure that the goal of providing quality medical care and compensation for injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors — embodied in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 and its reauthorization in 2015 and 2019 — is met.

Sheldon pointed to a newspaper clipping of an image of the New York City skyline framed on his wall. He recalled where he was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

“I was sleeping and a buddy of mine woke me up and said, ‘Dude, turn on the TV,’ and it went from there," he said, his voice lowering. "The first plane had just crashed into it, and then I watched the second one live, like so many others. It was just nuts."

Sheldon originally planned to raise funds solely for 9/11 Health Watch, but he recently found out a local nonprofit needs his help too, Newby-ginnings of North Idaho, named for SPC. Nicholas Newby, who was killed in action in 2011, provides household items, basic necessities and other support for area active military, veterans and families of fallen service members. It was founded by Newby's mom, Theresa Hart, who has become friends with Sheldon through the years.

When Sheldon heard that the engine in Newby-ginnings' commercial truck needs to be replaced, costing about $10,000, he immediately took up that cause too.

"He's got a huge heart. He’s like a teddy bear," Hart said. "I'm going to be worried sick about him."

She said she is amazed at how he is so willing to step out of his comfort zone for others.

"He's doing something really big, that he doesn’t have to do, to help other people and other organizations," she said. "That’s just the kind of person he is."

Sheldon said he already has a clearance letter from his doctor that he'll be ready to go up after the first week of September.

“As I get closer, I’m thinking the instructor is going to have to push me,” he joked.

“I have faith,” Sheldon said. “Just like I had faith in that thoracic surgeon. You think about it, you meet somebody two times and you let them cut you in half at your breastbone, and hopefully he knows what he’s doing."

Sheldon has set a goal of $20,000 to support Newby-ginnings and 9/11 Health Watch as he takes to the skies. Those who want to contribute can visit https://bit.ly/3amlrFn or email Sheldon at dunebuggydave@gmail.com and designate where they want their donations to go.

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Navy veteran Dave Sheldon of Hayden is preparing to face his fear of heights and jump out of an airplane on Sept. 11. He is working to raise funds for 9/11 Health Watch, a nonprofit that provides quality medical care and compensation for injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors, as well as Newby-ginnings of North Idaho, a nonprofit that supports veterans and their families. Sheldon is seen here in his home Thursday. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

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Navy veteran Dave Sheldon on Thursday afternoon points to a newspaper clipping he framed after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack. It shows the New York skyline with lights in the place of the Twin Towers. Sheldon will jump out of a plane on Sept. 11 as he raises money for 9/11 responders and for a local veteran support organization. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

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This image commemorating the life of SPC. Nicholas Newby, killed in action in 2011, is wrapped around Navy veteran Dave Sheldon's vehicle. Sheldon is friends with Newby's mom, Theresa Hart, and Sheldon plans to raise funds for the nonprofit named in Newby's honor, Newby-ginnings, by skydiving for the first time in his life, and after having two back-to-back heart attacks. (DEVIN WEEKS/Press)

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Dave Sheldon, left, receives his chief petty officer ranking in Aug. 1983, joined by wife Carla Sheldon (now of 45 years) and Capt. Charles I. Cook of the USS Jason (AR8). Sheldon, now 67, will jump out of a plane on Sept. 11 to raise funds for Newby-ginnings, a local veteran nonprofit, as well as the 9/11 Health Watch nonprofit that supports 9/11 responders and their families. (Courtesy photo)