Heart disease plays no favorites

  • Written by By Jeff Vorva and Kelly White

Photo by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Richards sophomore Nick Aggelopoulos stands in front of a bulletin board full of hearts with the names of students who will receive EKG tests on Feb. 24. Aggelopoulous found he had a heart disease last year when he received an EKG a little more than a year ago.


When he was a freshman, Nick Aggelopoulos was a football player who started the season on the freshman team at Richards and eventually worked his way to up to varsity.

A few months later, on Jan. 10, 2014, he passed out while working out.

Wait a minute.

Conventional wisdom suggested this wasn't right.

Aggelopoulos was a football player since kindergarten. He was in good shape. Why in the heck did he pass out after a routine workout?

As he and others are learning, heart disease plays no favorites. It can strike at any time. It doesn’t matter if you are athletic, appear to be physically fit or never picked up a barbell in your life, heart disease can target anyone.

It targeted Aggelopoulos in January and caused him to get examinations and an electrocardiogram, which showed he had Wolff-Parkinson-White, a birth defect of the heart. This is where the heart has an extra electrical pathway, which can sometimes cause arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

Friday will be the one-year anniversary of heart surgery – cardiac ablation -- that Nick received and he is glad he is still around to recognize the date.

                “It’s hard to believe it’s been a year,’’ he said. “I look at life differently now. Before, I would be rushing to get to what’s next. What’s next? What’s next? What’s next? Now I look at what gifts I have. I take a step back and realize how lucky I really am.’’

                He played football again his sophomore season and is trying to tell as many of his peers as he can about getting EKGs as a preventive measure.

The Young Hearts for Life organization has been bringing groups of qualified community volunteers to Chicago area high schools to provide free EKG screenings to all of its students and will be stopping off at Richards, 10601 Central Avenue, on Feb. 24.

             Young Hearts for Life stresses early heart screening for teenagers and young adults to foresee any potential cardiac conditions that may need further attention during the aging process. More than 500 of Richards’ 1,700 students signed up and officials are hoping for more. Aggelopoulis is trying to get the word out to his peers.

                “It’s cool to be involved in helping other kids,” he said. “If we can save one of those 500, it would be worth it. Or 20 out of 500. Or even all 500.”

                You don’t have to convince his mother, Paula. She saw firsthand what you can learn from and EKG.

“I am a firm believer in the necessity of EKG’s,” she said. “My son on occasion, especially the year leading up to his workout incident, complained of chest pain at football practice. He told me his heart pounded a lot at summer practice, told me his chest felt tight. We told him, ‘take your inhaler, it’s probably your asthma.’”

                "Over the years we have been bothered by stories of young people dying," Dr. Joseph Marek founder the Young Hearts for Life Cadiac Screening Program said.

                According to the American Heart Association, it is estimated that 3,000 young adults are victims of sudden cardiac death each year in the United States and that 50-to-60 percent of these deaths may have been prevented through a simple, inexpensive heart screening.

Unfortunately Oak Lawn Community High School student, Tim Nickos, was one of the cardiac victims in 2011.

                “He was a normal, everyday kid, and he happened to be in really good shape,” Tim’s father, Dale Nickos said about his son who died in between his junior and senior year.

                Tim loved music, video games and playing trumpet for the Spartans marching band, his father said. He was a standout swimmer who was to become captain of the team his senior year. He displayed no symptoms of a heart condition. And at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he seemed to be the picture of health until the day he didn’t wake up in 2011, when he died in his sleep of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy leaving his family stricken with shock.

                “We had no idea that he had a heart condition,” Nickos said, “We found out in the autopsy four months after he had passed away.”

                As sad as the loss has been, Nickos said he finds strength and purpose in sharing the story publicly, not only to keep his son’s memory alive but to help prevent this kind of loss from happening again. He emphasized the importance of an early EKG screening and how it can save lives.

                “As parents, we want our children around forever,” he said, “I do love the fact that the loss of my son, Tim, is helping to save others. This alone helps to keep Tim’s memory alive. Of course I wish I could turn back time and get him tested a year before he passed, but I can’t do that. So I have decided to do whatever I can to make sure that this will never happen to another student and their family. No parent should ever have to go through this.”

                District 218 spokesman Bob McParland said there are several reasons why teenagers are avoiding cardiac screenings. He said students think they are bulletproof, many parents don’t view cardiac issues seriously in regard to teenagers, students have fear because they think it will hurt. McParland added that since high school physicals do not include an EKG, students have no idea whether they have a cardiac issue of concern.

                McParland said the free cardiac screening taking place at Richards High School is painless and offered to all students.

                Since the Young Hearts for Life program launched in 2006, more than 12,000 volunteers have been trained and more than 110,000 students have been tested, making Young Hearts for Life the largest screening program in the United States.

                “It doesn’t matter if they are athletes, band members, mechanics, ROTC or drama students, everyone has a heart and my hope is that each and every student gets the opportunity to live their longest life and enjoy each moment they get growing old,” Aggelopoulos said.

Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions:: Changing this scoring decision was the right thing

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

Sometimes doing the nice thing isn’t always the right thing.

It sounds good.

It’s done for positive reasons.

But it’s not right.

The wrong was righted, however and all is well.

There are some who would question why so much time, energy and media space to an issue about who the all-time girls basketball scoring leader at Oak Lawn Community High School is spent when there is so much else going on in the world.

That’s true. But even issues that seem small and frivolous to the rest of the world are worth fighting for to the people closest to the situation.

Deerfield’s Drew Levin says he is not a troublemaker or the type who sends meals back to the kitchen at restaurants. But last February when he started reading newspaper reports that Oak Lawn’s LaTondra Brooks became the all-time scoring leader, he was upset and got involved.

His wife, known in these parts back in the late 1990s as Kathy Krzak, was the scoring leader with 1,235 points. Brooks scored 1,132 points in a Spartans uniform. Coaches and officials at the school, however, added 316 points that she scored on a varsity squad in Missouri when she was a freshman before moving to the Oak Lawn district.

Kathy and Drew Levin weren’t happy and Drew decided to write letters to get things changed. Drew pointed out that basketball great Kevin Garnett, who played just one year at Farragut High School in Chicago, didn’t have all of his previous career points transfer with him.

For the past year, Drew tried to get things changed and recently showed up to District 229 meetings to argue his case. That picked up some media attention and D229 Superintendent and Oak Lawn Principal Michael Riordan did some research on how other schools and teams did things.

On Jan. 26, he let the Levins know that Kathy was indeed the all-time scoring leader and her name was going to be put back on the board in the Spartans gym recognizing that accomplishment.

“It was a tough issue – LaTondra is one of the best female athletes we ever had,” Riordan said. “In time she will be [immortalized in a display with some of the other Spartan greats]. The coach and athletic director felt it was the right thing to do to include her points. At the time, I agreed and supported that decision.

“When Drew started raising the questions, I didn’t disagree with them but I felt our position wasn’t wrong, either. It’s not a right or wrong, it’s how you define career points. I give Mr. Levin credit for his persistence and I started doing more homework. While the decision we made wasn’t wrong, it wasn’t common practice. It’s not what the norm was. Keeping career points scored [solely] for the school made sense. Ultimately we did what we thought was best.’’

Three days later, senior Brianna Markusic hit a steal and layup in the first half of a game against Shepard and broke Kathy’s record.

The Levins were on hand to watch the record fall. It was the first time Kathy was back in the gym for the first time since she graduated in 1999.

Drew, Kathy and their three children, Jake, Lexi and Lucas made the trip from Deerfield to watch the record fall. It was not a sad time. Kathy was able to show her kids her name on the board and at halftime, she congratulated the new scoring leader and received some flowers in return.

“It’s exciting and it’s exciting for my kids,” Kathy said. “We just wanted it done the right way. This is great. It was done fairly and it was exciting to see her break the record. It’s quite an accomplishment.’’

Her husband insists that this was done to show his kids to stand up for what you believe is right.

“This was really about principles more than Kathy holding the record,” Drew said. “We knew the record would be broken. Last year we read articles about the record and I was upset. It wasn’t right. At first I got a lot of resistance. But now they are doing the right thing and it’s a good example.’’

As for Brooks?

Last year’s Reporter-Regional Player of the Year is a freshman at Western Michigan Unversity, which recently took over first place in the Mid-American Conference West division for the first time since 2008.

Riordan said Brooks’ accomplishments and contributions to the school will not be forgotten.

“Some people will look at is as shedding negative light on LaTondra,” Riordon said. “No way. She did nothing wrong here. She still has her name up there [on the board] six times for six other records. It will be a long time before anyone breaks those, probably. We don’t want to be disrespectful to LaTondra and her family.’’

It wasn’t an easy issue to deal with, but Oak Lawn got it right.


Chicago Ridge's teen rule to change on Friday

  • Written by Bob Rakow

A policy that will restrict teens from gathering at Chicago Ridge Mall on weekend evenings begins on Friday.


Anyone under 18 must be accompanied by an adult who is at least 21 years old in order enter the mall on Friday and Saturday nights.


The mall’s new youth supervision policy will be in effect on Friday and Saturday nights from 5 p.m. until the mall closes at 9 p.m.


The policy goes into effect about one month earlier than the March start date mall officials and Chicago Ridge police initially discussed.


An adult can accompany up to six teens and must stay with them at all times, according to the policy. Unaccompanied teens will be asked for identification and asked to leave the mall if they are under 18.


Teens who split from the adult that accompanied them will be asked by security to contact the accompanying adult via cell phone or leave the mall.


Teens can still attend the mall to see a movie, but cannot linger in the adjacent food court or enter mall without adult supervision.


Mall security plans to strictly enforce the new policy.


“There’s going to be security stationed at the doors,” said Monika Kalicki, the mall’s marketing director. “Most people can expect to get carded.”


The goal of policy is ensure that the mall is safe environment for families to shop, Kalicki said.


“Teens are still welcome on the property,” she said. “This isn’t a restriction. Teens are still welcome.”


Mall officials said theyconsidered the restrictions long before the December incident in which a food court fight quickly escalated when some patrons believed shots were fired inside the mall, Kalicki said.


As it turns out, a restaurant worker in the food court banged pots together several times in an effort to disperse the crowd that gathered when a fight broke out, officials said.

Mall security and police from Chicago Ridge and surrounding communities were on alert the following weekend when a Facebook post threatened similar action at the mall, 95th Street and Ridgeland Avenue. Nothing came as a result of the social media posts.

Kalicki said youth supervision policies are a trend in malls throughout the country. North Riverside Mall, adopted one in 2013, and Ford City, will put one into effect on Feb. 13

While the policy has the potential to turn away some teen shoppers who likely would rather not go the mall accompanied by mom or dad, Kalicki said some teens have thanked mall officials for implements the restrictions.


“It’s something we’re going to have to see how it plays out,” Kalicki said. “We’re going to be very interested to see the turnout. Any time there is a change, there’s going to be a period of adjustment.”





It was touch-and-go with the ice and snow

  • Written by Bob Rakow

PAGE-1-wuth-weather-story-072Black ice, rather than snow, was the culprit Monday morning when approximately 45 cars and trucks were involved in a chain reaction pileup on southbound Interstate 294 near Hickory Hills.

The accident was the most significant event related to a weekend snowstorm that dropped more than a foot of snow on our area.

Aside from the crash, towns in the Reporter’s coverage area survived the season’s first storm with few difficulties, save for a few complaints from residents wondering why their streets weren’t cleared sooner or more thoroughly, officials said.

The tollway crash reportedly began when someone ran into the back of a state trooper's car that was pulled over for another accident, officials said.

The trooper was not injured, but traffic started to slow and three semis jackknifed, causing the accident, officials said.

A total of 11 people were injured in the crash, which occurred around 9:20 a.m., state police said. None of the injuries were serious.

A total of 16 crash reports were taken involving 45 vehicles. Of the 45 vehicles, 20 were towed from the tollway. Eight people were transported to Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, and one individual refused treatment, state police reported.

The Roberts Park Fire Protection District and several other fire departments responded to the crash, which stretched from mile marker 18¾ to mile marker 18 in the southbound lanes, officials said.

Chris Perry, battalion chief for the North Palos Fire Protection District, said ice was the primary cause of the accident.

“It was icy up there. It was pretty slick up there,” Perry said “We had a lot of vehicles smashed into one another.”

Perry said he “amazed” there were no major injuries as a result of the crash.

“We were kind of surprised that we had no extrications,” Perry said.

Nineteen inches of snowfall fell from late Saturday night into Sunday in the fifth-largest blizzard to ever hit Chicago area.

But the communities within the Reporter’s coverage area handled the season’s first significant storm with relative ease, officials said.

“We have to congratulate our public works department,” said Chicago Ridge Village Clerk George Schleyer, who lauded crews for keeping up with the storm.

Schleyer admitted he may have spoken too soon when it came to the winter weather.

“It was funny, the mayor and I were talking about what a great year it was for public works and the salt budget,” he said.

Still, the village remains ahead of the game since the first significant storm did not happen until February.

The battle against the elements went as good as could be expected in Oak Lawn, said Village Manager Larry Deetjen.

“All hands were on deck,” he said, referring to the public works crews who took to the streets late Saturday night. “We’re running around-the-clock shifts.”

“Most people have been very understanding,” he said of residents.

The village plowed major thoroughfares and snow routes first and got to other streets later on.

“You prioritize,” he said, adding that the village began plowing alleys Monday so garbage trucks could access them beginning on Tuesday.

Village crews were to begin plowing cul-de-sacs and taking a second pass at other areas throughout the week, Deetjen said.

He added that the absence of weekday traffic and an existing ground cover of ice and snow made plowing easier on Sunday.

Garbage collection was cancelled on Monday and resumed Tuesday with Republic Services employing a holiday schedule.

Village crews cleared all but the top level of the commuter parking deck in preparation for Monday morning, Deetjen said.


Jeff Vorva's Im-PRESS-ions: Garibaldi's got talent -- and is using some of it for charity

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Jeffs Col Impressions

Some of us are getting at that age when we see young punks run afoul of the law and say things like “why can’t they use all of that energy for something positive?’’

I’ve been saying it in recent years whenever computer geeks decide to gum up our laptops and home computers or hack into some place they shouldn’t be and do millions of dollars of damage. Why can’t they spend all of those hours doing something positive?

David Garibaldi had a little punk in him.

He admits to doing illegal activities in South Sacramento involving graffiti. He was a high school dropout and was seemingly heading nowhere with his life.

Why couldn’t this kid do something positive his talent?

Thanks to some advice from an art teacher, he turned his life around and became an amazing performance painter. He paints pictures of celebrities in less than six minutes while using music and dance in his act. He made it to the finals of “America’s Got Talent’’ in the seventh season (Judge Howie Mandel couldn’t get out of his seat fast enough to applaud Garibaldi after one performance) and has made his share of money entertaining and dazzling audiences all over the world.

His hometown media speculates he could be the next Andy Warhol.

But the cool thing about Garibaldi is that he came up with an idea.

His goal was to make $1 million before he turned 30.

All for charity.

In late 2012, at age 29, he accomplished that goal.

Garibaldi was in Oak Lawn on Jan. 19 – Martin Luther King Day – to speed paint portraits of King, Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi during a presentation at the Advocate Christ Medical Center Auditorium. Those three pictures will be auctioned off at later time to help one of the hospital’s anti-violence program, so Garibaldi did not stop helping once he reached the $1 million goal.

He said some auctions have raised “tens of thousands of dollars’’ per picture.

“I realized I had this unique opportunity to use a few minutes on stage and a few hundred dollars of materials to see the value in what it brought to other people’s lives,” he told the Oak Lawn crowd. “I wanted to change the purpose behind the passion. Along the way, I was thinking ‘I don’t think we’re going to achieve this goal. That’s a very large number.’ But the night I met that goal was a reminder on why I stayed on that path.’’

Usually his act finds him painting celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Jay-Z and has done some touching pictures of Jesus.

He and a few other artists banded together and made it to the finals of “America’s Got Talent” and the group did a lot of dancing and painting to get pictures done in under two minutes.

“A lot of people overlook that I did paintings in 90 seconds,” he said after the Oak Lawn performance. “I usually do these in six minutes and that’s pretty fast. Doing this, a performance and dance in 90 seconds, was tough. It wasn’t the millions of people watching that made me nervous – it was doing something I had never done before.’’

Between the first stroke of the brushes through the final product, this guy jumps around, dances, dips his hand in the paint and throws it onto the canvas until this mess all of a sudden shapes up to be a brilliant work of art.

Sometimes he is not sure what the final product will look like until it’s over.

“Paint drips and paint doesn’t always go where you want it to,” he said. “Things change in the middle of a performance all the time. But it’s a process I’ve been doing a long time and I’m trying to perfect it. I try to capture the portrait during that moment.’’

After Oak Lawn, the next day he was performing in New Jersey and the next day he was throwing paint around in Scottsdale, Arizona.  He said he does 100 shows a year and when he’s not creating on stage, he said he practices a lot at home.

“Talent without hard work is just kind of a cool hobby,’’ he said. “I practice and try to find new ways to create.’’

SUBHEAD – 21 and counting

This was the 21st MLK celebration at Christ and one of the people overseeing all 21 events is the center’s staff chaplain, Rev. Richard E. James.

James and his committee have brought authors and entertainers – and even a play -- to the center for more than two decades including Chris Gardner, whose memoir, “The Pursuit of Happyness,”  was made into a film starring Will Smith.

J.R. Martinez, an actor and war veteran who suffered burns over 34 percent of his body and won the season 13 “Dancing with the Stars” competition, was also a guest.

Having cool guests on MLK Day is nothing new, but I asked Rev. James what he could possibly do for an encore after Garibaldi’s presentation.

“That’s a question I love to hear every year,” he said. “Our aim is to provide the creativity that Martin Luther King lived and died for. Our mission is to keep his values and philosophy alive and to put on a multi-cultural presentation that many people can enjoy. It’s not just a black thing.’’