Screenshot 2023-04-14 113602

A mother’s grief turns into mission to save other kids through heart screenings

NILES — Having a sick child is a parent’s worst nightmare, but a LaPorte mother is taking the loss of her child and making sure no other parent in our area suffers the same fate.

Jake West was 17 when he died of an undiagnosed heart condition. Since then, his mother started the Play for Jake foundation. It allows students to get free heart screenings at school.

Wednesday, they visited Niles High School.

“Jake was a perfectly healthy young man, been in sports all his life never had any issues. He went through all the physicals, never a red flag,” said West’s mom, Julie Schroeder.

In 2013, Jake died after collapsing on the LaPorte High School football field. He suffered from a heart condition that wasn’t diagnosed until it was too late.

“We need to screen these kids so another family doesn’t have to go through what we are going through,” Schroeder said.

The Play for Jake Foundation is dedicated to detecting what a normal physical cannot. Wednesday, about 200 Niles High Schools boys received heart screens for free.

One of them was 10th-grader Dawson Bruckner. He says he’s never thought about a heart condition.

“Maybe just cause I’m an athlete, that I just don’t think I feel sick or anything like that — no it hasn’t really crossed my mind,” Bruckner said.

But an EKG and an echocardiogram can detect abnormalities that kids may not even feel, and already results for about five students at Niles came back positive for abnormalities.

“Three percent of the kids we have seen so far have some form of a heart condition which will need some additional evaluation,” said St. Vincent Carmel Hospital pediatric cardiologist Sanjay Parikh.

Those are five lives that could be saved because of screening. Schroeder says that’s why she’s determined to test as many kids as she can. It’s a way for her to heal.

“It helps knowing that because I lost my son Jake there’s another mom out there that is not going to feel what I feel and a family that isn’t going to feel what my family feels. So it feels good. It feels good. It helps,” Schroeder said.

The Play for Jake Foundation screens every student not just athletes. Wednesday’s screening in Niles was for just for boys. On May 4, they’ll be returning to screen the girls.

In total they’ll screen about 500 students there. If you want the Play for Jake Foundation to go to your school or learn how you can help, visit the organization’s website


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