Photo submitted Jen Luft, who her friends and family say really enjoyed life, tie-dyed on the lawn with her friends before she learned she had a genetic blood disorder.
Photo submitted Nicole Heck, left, Jen Luft's best friend, visits her as often as she can, as she did before Jen suffered from brain damage.
By ALISSA SCOTT
Recorder News Staff
Jen Luft, 23, was a "normal, healthy child" up until this past Christmas, her dad Rodney Luft said. The Amsterdam resident graduated from Syracuse University with a degree in psychology and she was very involved with the school's marching band.
Now, Jen is unable to communicate and needs help just to walk and eat.
"The prognosis is not good, because of the extent of her brain injuries," Luft said. "It's called an anoxic brain injury, basically that means lack of oxygen."
Early Christmas morning, Luft said his daughter was having trouble walking to her room from the kitchen and then collapsed. After, he and his son, Chris, attempted CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Still, her brain was without oxygen for at least 10 minutes.
"A blood clot traveled from her legs to her lungs to her heart," her dad said. "She had several pulmonary embolisms, or blood clots. We still don't know exactly what caused them ... She doesn't smoke, she's not a heavy drinker and she doesn't do drugs."
Blood tests later showed that Jen has a genetic blood disorder that increases the risk for blood clots, though they didn't cause it.
"When you research it, it gives you the high risk [factors] like birth control pills, which we don't believe she was taking," Luft said. "Then, you get to the bottom of the list. It can be something as simple as a combination of normal everyday things: a cold, stress, dehydration, not eating properly, being inactive. All those things is what happened to her in her last semester of college."
Jen's last semester of college, her dad said, involved cramming for finals and writing papers. She probably wasn't eating properly and staying in bed a lot because she had a winter cold, he supposed.
"It's really frightening to know that all those things, in combination with her disorder, can cause something as serious and deadly as this," Luft said. "We're just thankful she's alive."
After her disorder was discovered, the rest of her family got tested for it. Chris, her younger brother, has also tested positive for the genetic blood disorder Jen has, and another one, too.
"It doesn't mean that I'm going to necessarily get [blood clots,]" Chris explained. "It's just a higher precaution."
Rodney Luft said that, on top of spreading the word about his daughter, it's also important that people know about her disorder.
Nicole Heck, her best friend, has stood by her since that Christmas morning. She has organized a Facebook and Twitter page and a website to help generate support.
"Her friends have been doing most of the work, because, for us (her family), we're concentrating on taking care of Jen, with her other needs," Luft said. "Time-wise, and emotionally, we wouldn't be able to do this. So, thank God for Nicole and her other friends."
Heck has organized a spaghetti dinner fundraiser for June 30, from noon to 6 p.m. at Amsterdam High School. There will be a silent auction for baskets prepared by local businesses and friends, and even one that includes autographs from stars of The Voice.
This is the first official fundraiser in honor of Jen, though Heck said she has been requesting funds with their social media pages for months.
Heck said she and Jen bonded over the New York Yankees, boys and Glee. Two years ago, they went to a Glee concert together and playing the Glee movie is comforting for her, Luft said.
"She does enjoy watching it," Luft said. "You can tell. She can't walk or talk, but you can tell by her facial expressions. She makes sounds."
Luft said she's demonstrated some behaviors typical of those she used to portray, especially when it comes to time with her friends.
"I was talking to her, having like a girl talk," Heck said, "talking about boys and we were in her room by ourselves. She was listening to me, really attentive and as soon as her mom walked in, she started acting up, like she didn't want her in there. As soon as her mom walked out, she started listening again."
"Even before she got sick, it was always important that she had time with her friends," Luft added. "I'd call her like almost every other day and she'd get like, 'Stop calling me!' and I would say, 'You're always going to be my by daughter, my baby girl. Just deal with it.' So she still does that a little bit."
Heck said these are the moments that give her hope, but funding her friend's medical attention is really of top priority.
Heck said that whether you knew Jen or not, she invites everyone to her benefit.
"You can't imagine something like this would happen to someone who's so healthy," Heck said. "You really have to live life for the moment now, because anything can happen. Hearing a story like this, I'm sure will touch a lot of people. I just want them to come out, support a young girl who was healthy and who was a really great friend, especially to me."
With the medical attention she needs and occupational, physical and speech therapy, Jen could potentially return to the condition she was in prior to Christmas.
"We know she's there," Luft said. "We're going to do whatever we can to bring her out and hopefully recover as much as possible. We're hoping and praying for 100 percent, but we'll take 80-90 percent, as long as we can get her to be responsive and able to communicate with us. We're not going to give up."