LAPORTE | Just over a year ago, Jake West died from an undetected heart condition during football practice at LaPorte High School, and became the source of inspiration behind the team's unexpected run to the state finals last season.
His mother, Julie Schroeder, this week received what would have been Jake's state runner-up ring from his teammates and, soon, the first crop of students will be screened for the same condition at no cost.
She expressed gratitude to the players propelled by her late 17-year-old son, who they called "the 12th man from above."
"It also was very powerful to me as well knowing that Jake was right there with them," said Schroeder. "They all still talk about Jake. It helps me in my healing process."
With help from a $10,000 donation from the LaPorte Kiwanis Club, the first heart screenings at no cost to parents are scheduled March 26 and 27 for any LaPorte high school or middle school student whose parents grants permission to have one.
The electrocardiogram screenings will be offered annually with funds from the "Play for Jake Foundation" also contributing to the cost.
Students in grades 9 to 12 will be screened the first day at the high school while students at Boston and Kesling middle schools will be tested the second day at Kesling.
Schroeder said there is enough funding to screen all of the 3,000 or so students from all three of the buildings and each screening should take just a few minutes.
Students will return to class as soon as the screening is complete.
"It's going to be a minimal amount of time they're out of class," said Linda Komp, a LaPorte Kiwanis Club member.
If a potential problem turns up from the screening, Komp said parents will be contacted by a nurse for a follow up examination by their physician.
Jake died from arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease that causes an area of the right ventricle walls to thin and turn to fat and scar tissue, leaving the heart unable to pump blood.
The condition often produces few if any symptoms prior to sudden death, in most cases.
Schroeder encourages all parents to have their children screened even if they don't participate in sports.
She said the heart screenings ought to be included with the regular physical exams in all of the schools.
"If you looked at Jake he was involved in sports and active all of his life. Nobody would have ever known that anything was wrong with his heart unless he had the proper screens and now we're able to provide these screens for other children," Schroeder said.