The 2007 graduate of Hillside High School had earned a scholarship to play football at St. Augustine College. His popularity at Hillside High was reflected in his being named the Homecoming King. He modeled excellence by serving as class treasurer, member of Sigma Beta, student government and National Achiever’s Society.
His death on June 27, 2007 marked a rare occasion were the name of a young black man’s death wasn’t tied to some form of violence. His exodus from the world was caused by a silent killer-Hypertrophic Cardiomypathy (HCM).
His mother, Tommie “Lady” Polk is on a crusade to assure other young men and women won’t die from this deadly disease. Recently, she made her pitch before at the Durham Public School Board of Education meeting.
“The public only knows that an athlete has died while playing a contact sport, leaving us to think that perhaps it was heat exhaustion or an enlarged heart,” she said. “We never know the final cause of death. Which is sad. If only someone would have made me aware.”
Polk is pushing for parents to have their children take an EKG. The test would have uncovered DeCarlo’s problem. “I know that I would have requested an EKG test for my own piece of mind,” she said. “But I did not know. Since I've learned about HCM I have read so many stories about parents stating if they had only known to have their child's heart tested.”
“As parents we sacrifice to afford the best for our children to wear,” she continued. “Then surely if we consider the alternative to not having them tested could mean a sudden death. I'm almost certain that many parents would request a test. After all isn't life way more important than a pair of sneakers.”
The beeper signaled the end of her 3 minute limit. Minnie Forte-Brown, the board chair, motioned to the other board members. A sign that this needed to be heard. A sign of respect for a grieving mother who has found the courage to warn parents of the danger facing their children.
A quick look across the room revealed the wiping of tears from the cheeks of teachers, administrators, parents and concerned citizens who gathered to discuss the business of public education. “I stand before you barely able to hear my own voice but I can hear my spirit. You see I am hearing impaired and my son DeCarlo was my voice and ears. He was always willing to do whatever he could for me, now he's not here.”
She spoke from her heart. “Now even though I'm hearing impaired, I am now HIS voice! For DeCarlo would have wanted me to be. Anyone that knew DeCarlo knew him to be a very compassionate young man. Always for the underdog.”
The reason for her coming was simple. “So this evening I stand before you hoping to make sure another child has a brighter tomorrow and another family does not endure what I've endured for the past 90 days,” she said “If we can be as passionate about spreading word about silent killers as we have become about gangs, guns, and violence OH WHAT A DIFFERENCE SAVING A LIFE WOULD MEAN!”
She walked back to her seat. The message has been delivered. It’s up to the rest of us to spread the news. Get you children tested for HCM. If you don’t have children, tell someone who has a child. Stand with Lady Polk.
That last shot was like a prayer. Hands stretched out to God. Into your hands I give my Spirit. Well done DeCarlo. Well done.