TOP STORY OF THE DAY, brought to you free by WICU: Using his story and experiences, Harden brings awareness to heart disease
As the final week of February gets set to come to a close, so does Heart Awareness Month with March bringing a new cause to the forefront.
But for former Northview standout and current Rose Hulman assistant baseball coach, Terre Haute Rex assistant baseball coach and third through eighth grade teacher Jacob Harden, raising awareness about heart diseases doesn’t stop when the calendar flips.
See, during the 2012-13 high school boys basketball season, Harden, who said he was in tip-top shape, all of a sudden had trouble getting up and down the court.
It came out of nowhere, so he and his parents didn’t think much of it with winter bringing normal sickness and fatigue.
But it continued for quite some time, causing his family to seek answers through health professionals.
“I was on the basketball team and there was a day where I just couldn’t seem to get up and down the court the same as I normally could,” he said. “My family and I believed I might have just been sick. But this confined for weeks. I went to a countless number of doctors and received no answers.
“Finally, my family decided it was best to go to a cardiologist just to “make sure” it wasn’t my heart. We never in a million years thought there would be something wrong with my heart, but we wanted to be sure. I went to Peyton Manning Children Hospital in Indianapolis where I met my new – and still current – cardiologist.”
He underwent numerous tests such as electrocardiograms (EKGs) and an echocardiogram when Dr. Sanjay Parikh, Harden’s cardiologist, found something that needed to be looked into much closer.
“My cardiologist felt he saw something but needed a deeper look,” recalled Harden. “He then ordered an MRI for the next week. Come that time, I remember asking my cardiologist. ‘How long will this MRI take?’ He told me, ‘It should only take about 30 minutes.’ I was in that machine for three hours. I knew something was wrong, and I remember feeling so helpless.”
Harden’s instincts were correct – something was wrong.
“Less than a week later, I had a follow up appointment where the news was given to me. I had a congenital heart disease named Partial Anomalous Pulmonary Venous Return. In Layman’s terms, my pulmonary veins were partially going to the wrong atrium of my heart, which wasn’t allowing my body to get the necessary blood flow and oxygen I needed. This explained why I felt the way I did when I fired easily and felt extremely fatigued after every physical thing I did,” he explained.
Harden wasn’t sure what the next step was, but he admitted he had hope there was some sort of ‘magical shot’ that would fix everything.
Instead, he was informed he would have to have open heart surgery through his chest, which, as he said, ‘broke him,’ although there was a bit of good news that came along shortly after.
“I remember thinking my life was ruined and that I would never be able to live my life the way I had dreamed,” he said. “I was given some good news, though – I could finish basketball season and complete my baseball season before my surgery.
“I’ll never forget scheduling my surgery for June 18 because I said, ‘Our baseball team is going to win state and I’m going to be there playing,’ [so], I scheduled it for the Tuesday after the state championship at Victory Field.
“That season, I was more motivated than I had ever been. This could have potentially been my final season ever playing. It broke my heart when we lost on a walk off home run in the opening round of sectionals. I was devastated. I had never wanted anything more in my life. The tears I shed after the defeat were not just tears of sadness, but tears of uncertainty, ‘Had I just played my last baseball game?’”
The sorrow that he felt after the final game of the 2013 high school baseball season went away as the date for his surgery approached, he said. He was determined to make the best comeback possible and achieve his dream of playing collegiate baseball.
The surgery went ‘fantastic,’ Harden noted.
Shortly after being released from the hospital, he began his eight-month recovery that saw him miss out on normal summer fun, including the 2013 travel baseball season. But Harden made sure he remained positive throughout the process.
“The recovery was difficult, painful, and hard on my soul as I had to watch all of my friends do the fun summer things that teenagers do. However, I did my best to remain positive. I did my best to still influence my peers by being a walking testimony of how having faith and believing can get you through any situation,” he said.
His faith, hard work and overall positivity paid off in a big way as he was back on the diamond for his junior season which ended with him earning Second Team All-State honors.
“I would have never dreamt it possible, but I knew deep inside that I could come back and be better than ever,” he said.
Harden then made his dream become a reality when he began playing collegiately at Vincennes University and Indiana University Southeast before transferring to Indiana State University where he walked onto the baseball team in 2018-19.
But before practice one day, Harden didn’t feel right. Having severe chest pain, he was rushed to the emergency room because of his heart history.
The results came back fine, but the scare forced him to hang up his cleats and end his baseball playing career.
“It was better to be safe than sorry,” Harden said. “I had hoped that my career would have ended with me dog piling in Omaha with Indiana State, but I was still fortunate that I was able to play college baseball at Vincennes and Indiana University Southeast.”
Now, Harden uses the platform he’s been given and the experiences he gained to spread awareness about heart disease and the ability to overcome anything with faith and determination.
“I made it a point to always try to spread awareness for heart disease the best I can. I want people to realize that it isn’t just ‘old people’ who have heart problems. It can happen to anyone,” he said. “You never think it will happen to you, but I my story proves otherwise.
“My biggest point of awareness I want to spread is also just my testimony of overcoming adversity. I can tie my story into any situation. Where I currently teach [Gibault], I have tied my story into the many situations in my students’ lives that have negatively affected them. I hope they know that anything is possible when you are determined, have faith, and work your tail off.
“It is a blessing that I am still on this earth, and I don’t want to waste it. I want to always be a positive light to how anything is possible.”