The blink of an eye.
That’s how quickly Jack Sleeth’s life changed.
During a seventh-grade PE class, Sleeth was running with his best friend, Amber, when he went into sudden cardiac arrest. His only memories of that day are the ones told to him by friends, teachers and family.
“I guess I bent over, and then fell,” Sleeth said. “Thank goodness Amber was with me. She saved my life. She checked for my pulse and called for help. I’m pretty sure my teacher and my principal did CPR while waiting for the ambulance.”
The previously healthy teen was diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disorder that is sometimes inherited.
“My mom and my sister got tested after I collapsed,” recalled Sleeth. “They both have it. My mom and I got pacemakers, but my sister’s heart is stronger.”
He returned to the classroom determined to make the most of every interaction and opportunity.
“My district is amazing,” he said.
Nine Mile School District teachers and administrators feel Sleeth is the amazing one.
“He has such a great attitude,” said Lakeside counselor Linda Mitzlaff. “He doesn’t live like his life’s precarious. He’s got a great sense of humor and always has a smile on his face.”
Sleeth said he has learned to live with the diagnosis.
“It’s difficult as far as being scared of something happening again,” he admitted.
Even so, he has kept up with his studies and works in Spokane Public School’s Express Program. The program offers before- and after-school child care.
“He has a heart for kids,” Mitzlaff said.
In fact, Sleeth said he has always wanted to teach.
“I like kids, and especially kids with special needs,” he said. “They inspire me.”
Prior to the pandemic, Sleeth was slated to be in Lakeside’s Teaching Academy, and work with kids with disabilities. He was disappointed that class, like so many other things, had to be canceled.
But the pandemic did more than derail Sleeth’s educational plans.
“I got COVID in January,” Sleeth said. “That was really scary.”
He was thankful he recovered quickly with no lasting problems.
“I wish more people had his demeanor – his love of life,” Mitzlaff said. “His teachers describe him as outgoing, responsible, kind and a curious learner.”
She envisions this student as an educator, whether he pursues a degree or not.
Indeed, Sleeth said he isn’t interested in higher education at the moment.
“I love the social aspect of school, but I want to go ahead and live my life,” he said. “I feel like I see life as more of a precious thing. I know how easily it can be taken away.”
He plans to continue working in the Express program and hopes to become a site director.
“A lot of people ask why me? I ask why not me?” said Sleeth. “Lots of people die from cancer, but I’m still here. My life did change in seventh grade, but I think it changed for the better.”
Cindy Hval can be reached at email@example.com
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