Posted January 08, 2019 in Press Releases

CLEVELAND - Sophia Pecjak, a 15-year-old freshman attending Lake Catholic High School in Mentor, Ohio, overcame major medical obstacles to return to her true passion, participating in competitive sports. Pecjak will be honored with the Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award during the 19th Greater Cleveland Sports Awards presented by Medical Mutual and Huntington Bank on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel Grand Ballroom.

Click here to see a clip of Sophia’s courageous journey.

Pecjak was a premier-level soccer player. One Sunday morning in September 2014, she noticed a funny feeling in her chest and visited her Cleveland Clinic pediatrician the next day.

During her appointment, Pecjack’s blood work came back normal, however the doctor detected an abnormal echocardiogram (EKG) which spurred a follow-up call the next day from an electrophysiologist notifying her family to schedule an appointment immediately with a cardiologist.

While she was scheduled to meet with a cardiologist a few days later, Pecjak was feeling lethargic and unable to eat or drink. Within 24 hours, her symptoms had worsened and she was unable to see properly. Her family decided to take her to the emergency room where another EKG was done. Results from the second test showed that she was in heart failure most likely due to myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle usually caused by a viral infection.

She was admitted to the hospital and scheduled for a cardiac biopsy the following day, but shortly after being brought to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, she went into cardiac arrest. Medical professionals were able to revive and stabilize her long enough to get her on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood through an artificial lung and back to the bloodstream.

Pecjak stayed on the ECMO for five days, and then weaned off treatment and placed on a heart transplant list. Conversely, a chest X-ray and an EKG were taken. Results from both tests revealed her heart had nearly gone back to its normal size and she could be taken off the transplant list. However, Pecjak still had a long road to recovery.

After her 21-day stay in the hospital, she was able to return to school part-time. Her physical activity was restricted, but her goal of returning to the soccer fields and basketball courts was something she would do with courage and hard work. During the next year, Pecjak continued to receive outpatient cardiac treatment at Cleveland Clinic allowing her to return to competitive sports with no restrictions on activities.

“Playing sports has always been a big part of my life,” said Pecjak. “I feel very blessed to not only be given a second chance at life, but also have the physical ability to continue participating in something that means so much to me.”

Pecjak is still followed by the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Pediatric Heart Failure and Transplant team. After her experience, she expressed a strong desire to give back. She hopes to one day join the medical profession in some capacity stating she desires to, “to help kids like me.”

“Sophia embodies the essence of courage, facing a life-threatening illness with grace, faith, strength and of course, courage,” said Colleen Nasman, RN, BS, Pediatric Heart Transplant Coordinator at Cleveland Clinic. “Never a complaint, never a why me, just determination and enduring optimism.”

Pecjak was supported through this difficult road to recovery by her parents, Carole and Michael, and siblings, Catie and John.

Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award is awarded to an athlete who displays courage beyond the boundaries of their playing field, in order to inspire those around them.

Greater Cleveland Sports Awards is the premier annual fundraiser that supports Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and celebrates a year of athletic achievements in Northeast Ohio. This event features appearances from current and former national sports celebrities along with a formal dinner, and awards ceremony honoring the top high school, collegiate and professional sports accomplishments in 2018.

Tickets and tables for Sports Awards are available for purchase at

Recipients of the Courage Award presented by Cleveland Clinic Sports Health include:

2008 – Eric Anderson, Jr., Gilmour Academy, Basketball
2009 – Gyasi Cooper, St. Ignatius High School, Track & Field
2010 – Olivia Warhop, Hathaway Brown School, Swimming & Soccer
2011 – Brandee Kelly, Cleveland State University, Basketball
2012 – Molly Miller, Notre Dame Academy, Soccer
2013 – Courteney Belmonte, Westlake, Competitive Cheerleading
2014 – Nick Lenyo, Huron, Football
2015 – Colin Teets, Westlake, Hockey
2016 – Kendra Seitz, Hudson, Competitive Swimming
2017 – Samer Babi, North Olmsted, Football
2018 – Sophia Pecjak, Mentor, Soccer & Basketball

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