Mother of fallen LaPorte teen wants mandatory heart screenings for students

2013-11-28T23:15:00Z 2013-12-09T02:00:27Z Mother of fallen LaPorte teen wants mandatory heart screenings for studentsVanessa Renderman vanessa.renderman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3244 nwitimes.com

LAPORTE | Jake West did not die in vain.

He saved his sister, and he may save countless more, as his mother leads a mission to require heart screenings for students.

The 17-year-old LaPorte High School student died Sept. 25 of cardiac arrest caused by an undetected arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which leaves the heart unable to pump blood.

West collapsed during Slicers football practice at Kiwanis Field and later died.

After his death, a doctor recommended the whole family get screened, said his mother, Julie Schroeder.

Testing detected a heart problem in his 20-year-old sister, Courtney West.

"Jake saved his sister's life," Schroeder said. "The doctor told us that."

Courtney West, a 2011 graduate of LaPorte High School and sophomore at Butler University, found out Nov. 1 she had a heart problem. Testing revealed arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia, known as ARVD.

"I was totally dumbfounded," Schroeder said. "I did not expect it. I did not expect hearing the news about Courtney and, like her brother, she has been an athlete all her life and did not show any signs or symptoms of any kind."

Her daughter subsequently underwent surgery at a Chicago hospital and had a subcutaneous defibrillator implanted in her chest.

In October, IU Health LaPorte hospital offered free screenings to 250 local student athletes. At least three were referred for a follow-up, said Laura Gould, community outreach coordinator for the hospital.

"We have always offered our Heart Cart screenings, but now people are more aware of it," she said. "It's sad, but he brought awareness to many people. Because of him, we know of many students who will get proper treatment and care."

A Heart Cart for High Schools program includes screening for cholesterol, blood sugar, electrocardiogram and limited echocardiogram.

Schroeder, a physical education teacher at Olive Township Elementary School in New Carlisle, wants EKGs to go alongside school screenings for hearing, vision and scoliosis.

"It's a lifelong mission," she said.

A tribute to Jake will be shown today and Saturday at the state football tournament finals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis as part of the Indiana High School Athletic Association's fall sports wrap-up video.

A foundation in Jake's honor is in its infancy. It could be used to spread awareness about undetected heart problems, help fund screenings for students or work to make heart health checks mandatory at an age appropriate level, Schroeder said.

"I want to see these screenings mandatory for all kids, not just athletes," she said. "We're always treating things. Where's the prevention?"

Schroeder has gotten some peace from Jake's friends and girlfriend, who still visit and call her "Momma," just as Jake did.

"It's helping my healing process knowing that they feel comfortable coming to see me in our home," she said.

Schroeder calls the back room of her house the Jake room.

Before Jake died, family moments frozen in time hung on the walls and sat framed in shelves. Since his death, it has become a growing memorial.

One wall is crowded with posters of photo collages. There's a young Jake, dressed up for his mother and stepfather Brett Schroeder's wedding. An even younger, giddy Jake is airborne on a sled, launching off a snowy hill. And then there are the goofy faces and countless photos of Jake in a No. 26 football jersey or No. 23 lacrosse uniform for LaPorte High School.

Shelves display Jake's lacrosse gear, autographed footballs from local high schools and memorial T-shirts.

Cards – many from strangers – still come in the mail.

Schroeder picked up a plastic bin jammed with greeting cards she hasn't opened yet.

"Some day," she said.

The football team honored Jake at its clinic. Schroeder was invited but wasn't emotionally ready to go.

She carries some mementos with her, including a stuffed animal monkey Jake kept in his bed, a stuffed animal dog he gave her to protect her when he wasn't around and a heart he and his stepfather pounded out of metal and wrapped in wire that he gave his mom one Mother's Day. 

Schroeder clings to moments that seem implausible as signs Jake is still around spiritually.

There's a framed picture in the Jake room that was snapped during a lantern release in his memory. The sky is black, and the lanterns seem to form letters and spell "Jacob" as they float away.

On a shelf sits a bottle of perfume he bought his mom for Valentine's Day. It's called Heavenly. Schroeder takes it as another sign.

Jake was a respectful, compassionate, gentle soul, his mother said.

She pointed to a picture of him wearing her beach hat and making a silly face. 

"That's Jake," she said. "He made everyone laugh. He made everyone feel good."

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