A Father's Letter of Gratitude to His Son: The Jake Eliopoulos Story and TEGH
Last month I wrote about an upcoming event that combined two of my great passions, baseball and Toronto East General Hospital. The Grand Slam Celebrity Softball Tournament in support of TEGH runs October 17-18 and provides a great opportunity to have some fun and profile some of the great work that is done at the hospital. As a TEGH foundation board member I am privileged to be one of the co-chairs of this event and look forward to perhaps sharing a place on the field with honourary chair Joe Carter and other ballplayers of note. The presence of the Canseco brothers promises to be a showstopper!
While I practice as a urologic surgeon, after almost 20 years in practice one begins to realize that all aspects of health are interrelated. I cannot treat prostate cancer or a kidney stone in isolation. It is no more true that a heavy smoker may recover less quickly from surgery then it follows that extra care needs to be taken to shepherd a patient with brittle heart disease through an operation. For surgeons we often do not completely appreciate the importance of emotional and mental health in the ultimate recovery of our patients. Underlying anxiety or depression can greatly prolong recovery from surgery; increase the requirement for pain medications post operatively, possibly with an increased risk of dependency.
It is imperative for all surgeons to fully understand the potential impact of any mental illness in our surgical decision-making.
Tying things back to baseball, the upcoming Grand Slam event will specifically be in support of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services at TEGH. It will hopefully cast a broader light on mental health as has been done so effectively by Clara Hughes and her Bell Let's Talk initiative. One of the teams entered is ‘Jake's Team’. Jake Eliopolous was a second round draft pick of the Toronto Blue Jays in 2009; a left-handed pitcher with the promise of a bright future. Tragically, Jake died in 2013, taking his own life before this potential was realized. Jake's father Jim has joined Jake's Team and was incredibly generous to share his son's story as well as a personal letter to his son that follows at the bottom.
I share this with you now:
“Jake Eliopoulos, the subject of this team is my son.
On April 29th, 2013, Jake chose to end his life. He succeeded after four prior failed attempts in the previous 12 months.
His medical resume included ADHD (age 4), Tourette’s Syndrome (age 7), Deep Depression and Multiple Personality Disorder (age 19-20). The former 2 he handled with aplomb living out a very happy and accomplished childhood and lead up to young adulthood. The latter 2 hit him like a sledgehammer after Tommy John surgery performed in December 2011.
Jake was a lovely youngster who made all around him either smile or laugh with his gentle yet quirky nature throughout his lifetime. People were taken by his story of being left in a state run Ukrainian orphanage 5 days after birth, just as the Iron Curtain was coming down, until just shy of his 2nd birthday when his mother and I formally adopted him.
Between then and his Tommy John surgery, Jake had parlayed his passion for baseball into being drafted by MLB organizations for 3 straight years including being selected the top high schooler from this country in 2009.
Jake intrigued the baseball community with his possibilities. However, mental illness, the disease, does not discriminate.
One looking from the outside in might think that Robin Williams led such a charmed life. Why would he do what he did?
Well, Jake suffered similarly. It is an honour to lend Jake’s name and story to assist the TEGH Foundation’s goal to do more in the area of adolescent mental health and to create the normalization of discussion around mental health.
Attached please find the letter I wrote to Jake a scant few hours before his burial, unfiltered, and having spent that night in a sleepless state. I believe it best captures who Jake was for people…and who he remains in their memories."
Teresa, the letter contains pictures that could be posted to the team site.
That letter follows here:
Please read it fully. When you are finished consider reading it again. It is both heart-wrenching and inspiring. As a parent I can only begin to guess how Jim and his wife may try and cope with this loss. They are absolutely heroic.
This poignant letter makes it clear that we must all aspire to understand mental illness better so that we can intervene and lessen the pain more quickly. It is our duty in our ongoing efforts to become better citizens. I hope that Jake would be pleased that a sport that he grew up loving is helping to shed a brighter light on the difficulties that so many struggle with.
It is with this spirit that I am honoured to serve as co-chair for this great event. It promises to be outstanding.
A full link to other media activity for this event can be found here
Support for our Team surgery entry into the event can be found at Split-Fingered Surgery.
I look forward to seeing everyone join in celebrating this event and remembering Jake's story.