The sudden death of a 13-year-old Kentucky cheerleader on the day of a competition shocked her community and left her father agonizing over whether he could have done more.
Eighth-grader Lilliana Schalck fell ill shortly before her cheerleading team was set to take the mat at an out-of-state competition in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday.
Her father, Dan Schalck, said his daughter’s hands felt cold and she complained about tingling in her limbs.
The next thing he remembers was being in an emergency room while Lilliana’s condition quickly deteriorated. Within less than two hours, she was dead.
“I’m at a loss,” Schalck said on Wednesday.
He added, “You just keeping going over the sequence of events of the whole day and try to see if there was something that I missed – something more I could have done as her father.”
An autopsy has not yet been released and it remains unclear what caused the girl’s death.
Schalck said his daughter was healthy and in top shape. In the days before the match, she made minor complaints to him about a nagging ache in her hamstring and a small cold she had the week prior but nothing that caused him major concern.
Dr. Michael Ackerman, a genetic cardiologist at Mayo Clinic whose clinical practice and research specializes in sudden deaths involving both athletes and nonathletes describes this case as very unusual.
“Overall we have around 70 to 100 ‘young athletes’ who die during sports or surrounding sports activity, each year,” he said.
Ackerman said that it is imperative to review all of the details before coming to conclusions about a cause of death.
He added that at times like this, coroners and medical professionals try to provide families with closure. “They often want to know, ‘Why did my child die?’ and then they want clarity, ‘What does this mean for our family?'”
Lilliana’s cheerleading team, Premier Athletics of Northern Kentucky, wrote in a Facebook post Sunday, “Our hearts are completely broken for the Schalck family.”
Lilliana recently became one of two eighth-graders to make the varsity cheerleading team this school year.
In a statement released Sunday,Fort Thomas Independent School said Lilliana was “beloved by so many and we know our students and staff will need help through the grieving process.”
A vigil was held at Highlands Middle School gym Sunday night and several other commemorations in the cheerleading community have been held since Lilliana’s death, with athletes donning blue hearts in a show of support.
“The evidence of the outpouring support for her just shows what a remarkable person she was,” Schalck said.