Wednesday, October 3, 2007

A Mother's Prayer

The sweet stroke of his jump shot hit the bottom of the net. In euphoric celebration of another shot made, DeCarlo Legran Polk kept his arm dangling reminiscent of the great kings of the court. Soon the jubilation of a two point shot was tainted by a tinge in his chest. All who knew him are still shocked at how his life was taken doing one of the things he loved the most-sports.

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.


  1. My heart weeps for you dear Tommie “Lady” Polk. For your son, for you and for your journey ahead. My son, Anthony Bates, died 7 years ago also from HCM. As I stand with your in your crusade, I plead for all those reading this blog to have their hearts screened. Heart disease is the leading killer of young people in this country. With preventative screenings we do save lives and we are making a difference. Join the a life!
    Sharon Bates
    Anthony's Mom

  2. I too lost my 22 year old daughter, Emilie to Long QT Syndrome. It is an electrical defect with the heart that can be congenital (our case) or acquired through the taking of certain drugs. It is a totally treatable condition. You can go to and see all the drugs that can cause a Long QT (just like someone who is born with it). Two different adult cardiologists missed the diagnosis in Emilie, in 8th and 9th grades. We now know she should have been referred to a pediatric electrophysiologist, as she was complaining of a "racing" heart during exercise. She also had a history of fainting, a classic symptom of Long QT Syndrome. Many children are being misdiagnosed with either "seizure" disorders, or exercise-induced asthma, when it is really cardiac in origin (you can have a seizure during a cardiac arrhythmia, due to a lack of oxygen to the brain.

    Bless you Sharon and Tommie for all you're doing to educate parents on sudden cardiac arrest, in loving memory of all our precious children, lost way too soon. For more information on Long QT Syndrome you can also go If I can save just one family the agony of losing a child I would consider all my efforts to warn others a success. My daughter's Holter Monitor was read as normal during life, and was read by an expert as abnormal after she died suddenly. We had the classic warning signs, but no one saw it in time to save Emilie. Who reads the test is just as important as the test that is ordered. It takes an expert to interpret the cardiac tests correctly.

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