In the fall of 2013, tragedy struck La Porte High School and the City of La Porte when high school junior Jake West passed away suddenly during football practice on September 25 from an undetected heart condition, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD). Before his sudden death, Jake was a healthy, strong member of the lacrosse and football teams, and had not shown any symptoms or indications of a heart condition.
Afterward, Jake’s mother, Julie Schroeder, started the Play For Jake Foundation through her determination to educate and bring awareness of ARVD to parents, school officials, students and members of the community.
“Soon after Jake collapsed and we discovered that he had an undiscovered heart condition, for me as a mother who was thinking we had a particularly healthy son, I felt that there’s other parents who most likely felt the same way,” Schroeder said. “It was a no-brainer to me and my family to figure out a way that we could start screening as many children as we can.”
“We want to prevent sudden cardiac arrest among our youth by providing screening and protection programs for middle schools and high schools to ensure children are offered routine heart screenings for undetected heart conditions,” described Schroeder of the organization's goals.
ARVD, as a disease that attacks the heart, cannot be diagnosed without proper screening and/or testing, and that’s where Play For Jake comes in.
“This is why it is so important that we spread this awareness to help save precious lives,” Schroeder said.
In 2016, the Play For Jake Foundation screened 1,031 middle and high school students within the New Prairie United School Corporation, which followed a similar initiative at the La Porte Community School Corporation where Play For Jake, and other partner organizations, were able to screen 1,517 middle and high schools students as well.
Schroeder is an educator at the New Prairie United School Corporation so, for her, both screening initiatives were amazing opportunities that can have a tremendous impact in helping to prevent another tragedy and create awareness about the devastating disease.
"We were so pleased to see so many kids take advantage of these screenings," Schroeder commented. "As a teacher with NPUSC, it meant so much knowing my former students had the opportunity to have their hearts checked."
In the past, partnerships with larger organizations has allowed Schroeder to reach thousands of students at one time, but with some organizational changes that is no longer an option. That hasn’t deterred Play For Jake from fully pursuing their mission. Recently, the Play For Jake Foundation has partnered with the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at St. Vincent’s to continue to provide screenings for children across not only Northwest Indiana but into other areas around the region.
“We were able to purchase an EKG machine and the laptop that goes with it so we’re still able to do screenings, just on a smaller scale of up to 350 kids a day. We screened Niles High School in April and May of 2017 and we’re scheduled to provide screenings in Bremen in November of this year as well.”
Schroeder spoke about the reaction that the Play For Jake Foundation, and especially the efforts to screen children throughout the region, has gotten in saying, “It’s really been phenomenal! Everyone is on board and that’s great to see.”
Schroeder and the Play For Jake Foundation has received amazing support from the community and the region, and organizations like the Kiwanis Club of La Porte have taken a leading role in helping to promote the organization’s mission. Coming up on October 21st, Play For Jake and Kiwanis will be hosting their annual Run For Jake 5K at Legacy Hills in La Porte.
To find out how you can get involved, donate, or volunteer your time with Play For Jake, visit: www.playforjake.org/