For the love of little Jake - and field hockey

On High Schools

High Schools

September 12, 2004|By MILTON KENT

IT WOULD BE a stretch to say that the South Carroll field hockey team is playing this season for the honor of 11-month-old Jake Soulen, but only because his mother, Erin, their coach, is more interested in sharing their burdens than revealing her own.

When Erin Soulen shows up for a film session on a rainy day to watch the previous day's game with popcorn for her team, few of them know how much their laughter fuels her spirit.

"I'm doing something that I love, and I love these kids," said Erin Soulen. "This is such a breath of fresh air. I can take my mind off this past year and get some normalcy back in my life."

The games and practices are Erin Soulen's oasis away from the pressures of raising Jake, who was born with malrotation, a type of obstruction caused by abnormal development of the intestines while the fetus is in the mother's womb.

Of course, Erin, 29, who has coached the South Carroll team for eight years, sees Jake, her first child, as a gift from above.

"I almost feel guilty," Erin said. "I feel like we got away with something. I feel like God is on our side."

According to the Web site kidshealth.org, malrotation occurs when the small and large intestines, which if stretched out could measure 20 feet at adulthood, don't coil properly during fetal development.

Malrotation occurs in one of every 500 births in the United States, according to the Web site. While some people who develop malrotation never experience complications and their conditions are never diagnosed, in worse cases, the condition could lead to defects of the digestive system, as well as malnourishment, organ failure and brain damage.

Most children with malrotation develop symptoms, often during the first month, and the majority of cases are diagnosed by their first birthday. Surgery is required, but normal growth and development usually occur once malrotation is treated and corrected.

Jake, who was born five weeks early, was originally kept at the hospital for 19 days because of immature lungs. However, once he got home, Erin and her husband, Mike, noticed that Jake was crying continually and wasn't consistently gaining weight.

As a first-time parent, Erin said she chalked up Jake's crying to a case of colic, but, one night in March, after Jake stopped eating, she and Mike rushed him to the Johns Hopkins Hospital's emergency room, where he was immediately admitted.

The gastrointestinal staff diagnosed the malrotation after a few tests and performed surgery, and Jake stayed at the hospital for six weeks.

"Within two days of the surgery, he laughed and smiled all day," Erin said.

The malrotation was corrected, but, as a result, Jake has low immunity and is easily susceptible to communicative illness, to the point, Erin said, where a cold that might hamper someone for a week knocks Jake off his little feet for six weeks or so.

Toward that end, Erin, who had already planned to give up her teaching job at Oklahoma Road Middle in Sykesville, has stayed at home every day with Jake, who has three physical therapy sessions a day.

She said she would have given up coaching, too, if not for the prodding of her husband, Mike, who is an operations manager and co-owner of the family lumber business, and her mother, Donna Eaton, who baby-sits Jake when Erin's out coaching.

Erin, a former marathon runner who trained during the early stages of her pregnancy, had planned to be with the Cavaliers throughout last season, but left after giving birth.

The team kept winning under an interim coach and reached the Class 2A state semifinals, one year after winning the Class 3A state title, but didn't repeat. Because most of Jake's struggles came after their season was over, the players were in the dark about what he and their coach were going through.

"We didn't really know what was going on," said Libby Benson, a defender and one of nine seniors. "It was like all of a sudden, Coach wasn't there anymore. She's really intense, and that's great for our team. It's one of the main reasons that we're so good and why we get to the positions we get to."

The third-ranked Cavaliers, who are 3-0-1 after a 2-0 victory over Westminster on Thursday, need a little more intensity and consistency to make a run for the 2A title, according to Erin Soulen, who said they opened their 2-2 tie against No. 9 Glenelg "like a tornado and left like a small rain."

But, if nothing else, raising Jake, who hasn't been sick since July, has taught Erin Soulen that being a little patient can pay big dividends.

"He works hard like my girls," Erin Soulen said. "I expect a lot out of him, and I expect a lot out of them."

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