On Nov. 14, 2014, Patrick Schoonover skated onto the ice for the last time. Shortly after scoring a goal, the 14-year-old Eagan hockey player collapsed during a youth tournament in Brainerd, Minn. Patrick was rushed to a nearby hospital, but attempts to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.
In the moments after Patrick’s collapse, the cause was unclear and some speculated that a head or neck injury could have taken place during a hit earlier in the game. The Ramsey County medical examiner’s report into the cause of death returned an answer that likely no one guessed — the active eighth-grader died from sudden cardiac arrest due to an undiagnosed heart defect.
“The heart defects were a surprise to us,” said Patrick’s father, Mike Schoonover. “We were given a summary of what it meant, but it [his death] was not because of hockey.”
Schoonover said that the heart defects were not caught during routine sports physicals, and that there are only a couple dozen organizations in the country that raise awareness for youth heart conditions.
“We could have felt sorry of ourselves, or we could help others,” Schoonover said. “That is what we chose.”
Schoonover and his wife, Gayle, began looking for other foundations in the country that raise awareness for youth heart conditions and provide heart screenings for student athletes. The Nick of Time Foundation — started in honor of a 16-year-old football player who died of a sudden cardiac arrest on the field — is in partnership with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.
“We traveled out to visit Seattle in May 2015 and held our first screening at Eastview High School in August 2015,” Schoonover said.
Schoonover’s father-in-law was in treatment for heart disease, and his cardiologist, Dr. Charles Kim, was interested in starting youth heart screenings.
With medical volunteers and loaned equipment, the first screening saw more than 160 registered students and their families participate.
“During a screening, we will have students pre-register online with parent permission,” Schoonover said. “We want parents to be involved to help with family cardiac history and to have parents learn
[cardiopulmonary resuscitation] CPR.”
Screenings also include an electrocardiogram (EKG) and an echocardiogram (ultrasound) to look for electrical or physical problems with the way the heart is operating. If an abnormal reading is found, the student and family meet with a cardiologist during the screening.
Play for Patrick, the organization the Schoonover family started, has continued to offer screening events. During the second annual Play for Patrick hockey tournament in January this year, the organization was able to screen 143 hockey players. Cardiologists found five players with heart issues — including one player with the same heart defect Patrick had.
“We would much rather have Patrick here with us, but it feels good that he is still making a difference,” Schoonover said.
The next Play for Patrick screening will be held 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 4 at Stillwater Area High School, with registration open online at playforpatrick.org. Registration is open to any child age 14-18 and is free.
“We are encouraging female students to sign up for a screening,” Schoonover said.
Schoonover said that they have had many male students sign up for a heart screening, but have had difficulty getting female students to sign up. Schoonover said the organization has made changes to its screenings in order to ensure privacy and that female students are comfortable.
To find out more information about Play for Patrick and making a donation to support the free student screenings, visit playforpatrick.org.
Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]