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 of teens.
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 senior editor at Chicago Parent.
See more of Liz's stories here.