Luft family’s Christmas wish: A recovery for Jennifer

Jennifer Luft, a typical college girl, before her heart attack. (Photo submitted)

Jennifer Luft, a typical college girl, before her heart attack. (Photo submitted)

Christmas day typically brings families together, laughing and exchanging gifts. But for the Luft family, Christmas brings back memories of a day that changed their daughter’s life forever.

On Christmas morning 2012, Jennifer Luft collapsed in her family’s home. Using CPR, her family and emergency medical technicians were able to revive her, but her brain had been without oxygen for too long and she was left with severe brain damage. Jennifer is now confined to a wheelchair and left unable to speak, move or care for herself. She now lives at home with her father, Rodney, mother Kathy and younger brother Chris.

Jennifer and music

In the fall of 2012, Jennifer Luft was a typical college girl. She was pursuing a degree in psychology at Syracuse University and found joy in playing the flute for the university’s marching band.

Music has played a large role in her life. She had a passion for music when she started playing flute for the Amsterdam High School band, and she still connects to it since that fateful Christmas morning, Rodney Luft said. When Sawyer Fredericks was on The Voice, Rodney noticed Jennifer listening intently and paying attention when he was on.

Jennifer meets with local musician Sawyer Fredericks while he was in town performing. Music has always been an important part of Jennifer’s life. (Photo submitted)

Jennifer meets with local musician Sawyer Fredericks while he was in town performing. Music has always been an important part of Jennifer’s life. (Photo submitted)

“It’s just amazing what music does for people,” Rodney said. “Music helps people heal. You always hear and read about it, and we are seeing it for ourselves with our daughter. It’s just a whole great process.”

Music actually connected Jennifer with Mountain Valley Hospice as well. Cynthia Gates-Truax, marketing and development director, heard of Jennifer when a mutual friend contacted hospice. The friend had heard of Fredericks’ upcoming concert in Gloversville this past fall, and asked if it would be possible to get Jennifer to the concert. Cynthia and CEO of Mountain Valley Hospice Susan Frasier jumped on board, and went to present the tickets to Jennifer at her home.

“That was the day this all was birthed,” Cynthia said. “We were standing there in her living room, speaking to Jennifer’s family about her life and her childhood and heard her story. Truthfully, Sue and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, and the hospice overall became involved.”

Hospice later started a fundraiser for the Luft family with the goal of buying them an RV to make it easier for Jennifer to travel.

Jen’s Story

Before attending Syracuse University, Jennifer had spent two years at Fulton Montgomery Community College. There, she played on the girls soccer team, and some credits were lost when she transferred to the university, causing her to stay an extra semester. However, she didn’t mind as she viewed it as one last time to play with the Syracuse marching band.

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Jennifer reported feeling dizzy, having a runny nose, lightheaded and having shortness of breath. Rodney said when they were moving Jennifer out, she had to sit down every so often because of that.

“I noticed right away that something wasn’t good,” Rodney said. “And she just kept saying she had a shortness of breath, no pain.”

When they returned home, they made an appointment with her doctor, who sent her home with an upper respiratory diagnosis and cold medicine. Days later, Rodney said she still wasn’t getting better and he made another appointment for the day after Christmas.

Jennifer didn’t make it that far. Around 7 a.m. Christmas morning, Jennifer woke up to get a drink from the kitchen, and collapsed soon after.

“We heard my daughter get up and ask for something to drink,” Rodney said. “You could tell by her voice that she was in some sort of discomfort, so I told her I’d be right with her. But she didn’t want to wait so she walked out to the kitchen and all of a sudden, she’s stumbling and staggering back to her room and crying out for help and that something wasn’t right.”

Kathy went into the room to help Jennifer. Rodney said he ran into the room shortly after to find his daughter not breathing and lying on the bed with her eyes open, unresponsive.

“I took CPR before, but it’s different when it’s your loved one. And I’m panicking. I moved her to the front room, started doing mouth to mouth resuscitation and told my wife to dial 911. It seemed like forever before they got there,” Rodney said.

As panicked as those moments were for Rodney, they were the ones that impacted Jennifer the most.

“I hate to say this, but it probably took me 10 or 15 minutes to get her. As I found out, that’s a long period of time for your brain to be deprived of oxygen and blood. I didn’t know that at the time.”

However, that was not the only thing the family didn’t know as the ambulance came to the Luft’s household to be transported to St. Mary’s hospital. After she was stable, Rodney and his family were told Jennifer had a heart attack. She had multiple blood clots that eventually built up in her heart to stop it completely.

“Most blood clots start in your legs and go up,” Rodney said. “They made their way to her lungs, which was why she was having shortness of breath, and then eventually built up in her heart.”

The family learned that Jennifer had two genetic blood disorders. Rodney said lack of exercise, not eating properly, common cold, stress and pressure can cause these blood clots to form. He said it was everything she had in that last semester at SU combined.

“I wish I had known, it’s a hard lesson to learn,” Rodney said. “What upsets me was how the doctor didn’t take her to have her lungs checked out or take extra blood tests. He’s a doctor who should be aware of all of these, even though it’s a remote possibility. It’s a hard lesson to learn. She was just starting her adult life and now she’s confined to a wheelchair; can’t walk or talk.”

Further research informed Rodney that women have different symptoms to a heart attack than men. In men, it’s pain, but for women it’s chest pressure. That’s one message that Rodney wants people to take away from Jennifer’s story. Knowing the symptoms for heart attacks, getting tested for blood disorders and if there is a heavy medical condition in your family, let them know.

“Don’t take your health for granted,” Rodney said. Even if you are at a young age like my daughter was, because anything can happen. And always go for a second opinion.”

Her Future

Jennifer’s future keeps expanding every day as her father says she improves. She receives therapy at home, as her mother is her care provider, and goes to speech communication and swallowing therapy. Rodney said he is also looking for a communication device that works for Jennifer. Right now, her left elbow is how she communicates the most. If she pulls it back, that means yes.

“Jen is with us,” Rodney said.  “She’s alert and responsive but has good days and bad days. I’m hoping that she doesn’t give up. We encourage her to have the will survive and get better.”

This is the first time the hospice has done something like this for a family and Cynthia said Jennifer is not a patient of theirs.

“It’s hard to say if something else came up that we would participate in it,” Cynthia said. “We never have actually done anything for other families like this. It kind of came up and pulled on all of our hearts, and we just thought if there was a way to give back and help this woman and her family out, then we wanted to be part of that.”

Currently, hospice is working with the Luft family to raise money to buy an RV for Jennifer. Being confined to a wheelchair, Rodney said transporting Jennifer to far places proves difficult, and having an RV would allow her to rest on the journey.

“We came together to do the research on what kind of vehicle they would need,” Cynthia said. “We got in contact with the president of Alpin House, and they worked with us and the Luft family to give the RV at cost. Lifts and safety harnesses need to be added, but that adds up quickly.”

Rodney said he would do whatever it takes to allow Jennifer to live her life to the fullest. By having an RV, he said they would be able to bring Jennifer to more places.

“I can’t enjoy life anymore,” Rodney said. “I stay positive because we have to be strong for my daughter and I will do whatever it takes to let her enjoy life the best that she can.”

Cynthia said the best way people can help the Luft family is by spreading the word. There is also a website where people can donate money to the family at www.gofundme.com/

lets-get-jen-movin.

Opal Jessica Bogdan covers rural Fulton County and can be reached at obogdan@leaderherald.com.

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