CLEVELAND — Sophia Pecjak, a freshman at Lake Catholic High School in the Cleveland suburb of Mentor, was named the winner of the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards.
Pecjak was presented with the honor at the 19th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards dinner at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel Grand Ballroom Wednesday night.
In September of 2014, Pecjak felt something awkward in her chest, and while her blood workup came back normal, a doctor found an abnormality in her echocardiogram (EKG), which resulted in a trip to a cardiologist.
After her condition worsened to the point where she could not eat or drink and felt lethargic, Pecjak was taken to the emergency room, where a second EKG test showed she was experiencing heart failure, most like the result of myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle typically resulting from a viral infection.
Before undergoing a scheduled cardiac biopsy, Pecjak went into cardiac arrest, but the medical team revived her and placed her on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine to filter blood through an artificial lung and back into the body.
Following a 21-day stint in the hospital, as well as her placement onto and removal from the heart transplant list when treatments had gotten the heart back down to its normal size, Pecjak returned to school on a part-time basis.
Then, over the next year, Pecjak was able to return to the soccer and basketball teams.
“Playing sports has always been a big part of my life,” Pecjak said. “I feel very blessed to not only be given a second chance at life, but also, have the physical ability to continue participating in something that means so much to me.”
The Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award is given annually to an athlete who has displayed courage beyond the playing field to inspire those around them.