MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Cheryl Lalloo, 54
Cheryl Lalloo recalls it beginning as a regular day.
Her daughter, a senior at Centennial High School, made a quick trip home before returning to the campus to participate in one of her many school-related activities.
“She was a busy girl,” Lalloo said. “That particular day she had a meeting. She came home and just said, ‘Mom, I can’t have lunch, gotta go’ and gave me a kiss and drove off and said, ‘Love you.’”
But the day took a tragic turn when 17-year-old Jessica Clinton fell and hit her head while stopping for a drink of water during a cheerleading practice. On Oct. 2, 2003, Jessica died from an undetected heart condition.
As the 10th anniversary of Jessica’s death approaches, Lalloo, 54, of Port St. Lucie, continues her fight to save the lives of other children.
“Our goal is that another mother doesn’t have to sit here for 10 years and do what we do because I miss her every day,” said Lalloo, who created the family-run Jessica Clinton MVP Foundation in her daughter’s honor. Over the years, the foundation, which includes Lalloo’s husband Ray and daughters Lauren and Rachael, has pushed for efforts to install automated external defibrillators in all St. Lucie County schools. At the time of Jessica’s death, doctors said that a defibrillator at the school would have increased her chances for survival, Lalloo said.
“That’s when our mission started,” she said.
In 2006, the foundation partnered with the American Heart Association to push for the successful passage of a 2006 state law requiring all high schools with athletic programs to have defibrillators.
The St. Lucie County Fire District recently honored Lalloo’s efforts by presenting her with its Citizen Hero Award.
“It means a lot because it comes from the fire department and they have been on this journey with me from the beginning,” she said.
On Oct. 5, just days after the 10th anniversary of Jessica’s death, the foundation will host its third annual heart screening at the St. Lucie County Health Department. The free screening is open to students ages 5 to 18 and is also open to students from nearby counties.
“After we got the AEDs kind of situated, a couple of years back, we decided wouldn’t it be great if we caught kids before they needed it, so we started doing heart screenings,” Lalloo said.
The screening program is credited with detecting heart-related abnormalities in 12 students.
Last year, 247 students were screened and Lalloo said she hopes to increase that number to 300 this year.
The event will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information about registering, visit www.jessicaclinton.org.
What has been your been biggest accomplishment?
I guess the biggest accomplishment is the kids’ lives that we have saved between the AEDs and the heart screenings. I can’t think of anything else bigger than that.
What’s one thing people don’t know about you that might surprise them?
I always say that Jessica has put me in places I never thought I would be. I’m not a person that likes to go out do speeches. I’m not a public speaker, but I don’t have a choice.
Who is your hero or someone has inspired you?
My father. He was always very involved. When he was in the service (Navy), he was very involved in charity work. Especially with children.
Who would you like to meet and have dinner with?