August 29, 2003 at 9:44 a.m.
Even when Anderson was in seventh grade, when he went in for a physical and the doctor found a heart murmur, the three sports star was unphased.
But life has a way of slapping you in the face. Anderson felt the cold hand of reality this past summer while lying on an operating table After his aortic valve on his heart kept growing, the North Branch senior had no choice but to go under the knife. On June 23rd, he did.
The surgery was called the Ross procedure. Doctors would replace Anderson’s aortic valve with his pulmonary valve. A new pulmonary valve would then be added from a donor.
“”I was really scared right away. I didn’t feel anything wrong with me and that stunk,” remembered Anderson. “We knew it was coming and we had it planned for the summer so I could recover and play football. When it came, I was pretty scared, I know my mom was.”
“Ed and I were really nervous but everyone assured us that it was done everyday,” added Peggy Anderson, Jake’s mother. “Jake was being very brave. Later I found out that it was for my benefit, so I wouldn’t fall apart. The funny thing was, I was playing the same role for his benefit. I guess we fooled each other.”
Everything happened so fast. After arriving at the University of Minnesota at 5:30 a.m. that morning, Anderson was whisked into the operating room without even having a chance to say goodbye. That seemed to be a moot point 10 hours later when the nurse appeared from the operating room.
“The surgery nurse came out after 10 hours and told us everything went great in the operating room,” said Peggy. “They were pleased with everything. We were all so relieved.”
However, the feeling didn’t last. When the nurse walked out of the operating room a few minutes later, her appearance and tone was totally different. Something was wrong and the Andersons knew it.
“We heard the door squeak open again and the same nurse came back out but with a pale face and shaking hands,” remembered Peggy. “She said there had been complications.”
Complications. The worst word in the english language at the time. Jake’s blood pressure had begun to rise, causing enough pressure to break his stitches wide open. Because his heart was pumping the blood out so fast, Anderson lost a substantial amount of blood. What followed were three more gut wrenching hours of surgery before Jake was stabilized. Still, with the loss of blood, doctors were concerned about the possibility of brain damage. In a few short hours, everything had changed.
“My arms felt like they were a ton each,” remarked Peggy. “I couldn’t lift them and couldn’t believe what had happened. I had reassured him that everything was going to be fine.”
Only time would tell.
At 7:00 a.m. the next morning, Ed and Peggy Anderson made the long walk to intensive care, not knowing what to expect. Right when they opened the door, their spirits began to soar. Jake was awake.
“The doctor said they gave him enough drugs to keep a horse down but he wouldn’t stay under,” commented Peggy. “Jake knew us and answered all of our questions. That was a big relief. He was fine mentally, or as fine as he was before.”
If she didn’t say it, I would’ve. After 13 hours of surgery and several complications, Anderson was in the clear, or so it seemed. What followed was another battle. Although not life threatening, it was just as painful.
Due to the loss of blood, several nerves in his legs were damaged, causing what doctors refer to as drop foot. Another crushing blow with football right around the corner.
“I had it in both legs because some nerves got damaged,” said Anderson. It was almost worse than the pain I felt in the chest, it was pretty bad. I think that set my recovery back the most.”
What followed were six more days in the hospital, filled with throat tubes, foot massages, and physical therapy. He lost a total of 23 pounds in the process. Still, football was on his mind.
Anderson was given six weeks to heal before football even entered into the equation. Day after day of physical therapy turned into week after week. Each day got better, so much so that last week, Anderson was finally cleared to play with full contact. An amazing recovery that has even caught Jake by surprise.
“I thought it would take a lot longer. I was surprised because I could see changes everyday,” said Anderson.
“Jake has gone to physical therapy, a neurologist, his regular physician, cardiologist's, and surgeons,” continued Peggy. “We got him a boxflex to try and get back some of his mobility and muscle. He’s really worked hard.”
“Guys take a lot of things for granted. He was chomping at the bit to get back out there, even though what he’s been through. He’s been through so much, he’ll never take anything for granted again,” said Joel Swanson, North Branch head football coach. “Honestly, I’m amazed he’s back.”
Several agree, including Bill Baumann, Vikings offensive coordinator and Jake’s basketball coach in the winter. Baumann smiles every time the topic comes up, but he also cautions that the battle is far from over.
“This is new ground for us. We are real careful with him when it comes to conditioning. The biggest thing for him is to get back in shape. He’s always been active so its a change for him,” commented Baumann. “We’ve left a lot of it up to him, what he feels like doing. It’s that easy. I think we’re more concerned than he is.”
That’s probably a pretty good bet. The fact is, ever since the procedure, Anderson hasn’t taken a whole lot of time to think about anything, he’s just enjoying life. Not taking anything for granted. It’s something he never used to do.
“I’m thankful that I’m alive. They had a lot of complications that I didn’t even know about, they wouldn’t tell me. Now that I know, I realize I’m lucky to be alive,” said Anderson. “It was a concern (not playing) but if I couldn’t play, I couldn’t play. I would be involved in some way. I don’t look at life in the same way anymore.”
A new perspective that will take him a lot farther in the life than the football field or the basketball court ever could.