Max Schewitz was a risk-taker-the kid who jumped
from the high school pool balcony into the water below, then raced
home to change into dry clothes and get back to class before the
principal could catch him. The teen who went out into the wilds of
Australia with a camera and his brother to find and photograph the
fifth most venomous snake in the world.
"He packed a lot into his life, took a lot of risks," his
mom, Mary Beth Schewitz, acknowledges. "But we didn't know the
greatest risk to him was inside."
On Sept. 29, 2005, at the age of 20, Max collapsed. He
died shortly after reaching the hospital from sudden cardiac
arrest. His stunned family tried to cope with the loss. "He was a
perfectly healthy-looking kid, but victims of sudden cardiac arrest
often are," Mary Beth says.
It wasn't long before Mary Beth and her husband, David,
decided they would do everything in their power to make sure
another family didn't lose a child to SCA. Their program, Screens
for Teens, brings volunteers into local high schools armed with EKG
machines and a goal to test every teen who wants to be tested. It's
a daunting task, requiring hundreds of volunteers to test thousands
When an EKG shows abnormalities, Mary Beth calls each
family herself to deliver the news and help them figure out what
their next step is in caring for their teen. She has seen the
difference it makes-a brother and sister were identified as having
a potentially deadly disorder called Long QT Syndrome. Within days
of testing, they were on life-saving medication.
Still, Mary Beth hopes this is not her life's work. Her
greatest desire is for the United States to make EKGs standard for
all teens so that insurance companies will cover the cost and more
lives will be saved. She's fighting to make that happen, but in the
meantime she will head out to each high school where the testing
takes place, help hook up another child to the EKG machine and hope
to save a life.
Liz DeCarlo is the former senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.
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