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AJ Schlatter's death leaves huge hole for those who knew and loved him

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A 'STRONG MAN WITH A STRONG DRIVE'


COURTESY: MADDIE PREHODA - Maddie Prehoda and AJ SchlatterAfter his tonsil surgery, she was by his side constantly for two days. Just as he had stayed with her around the clock after going through the same procedure two weeks earlier.

They were that inseparable. Just as they had been since the day he laid eyes on her last year at Portland State University.

And so, on Sunday, as he recuperated at home in Canby, the two of them told stories, laughed, watched the NFL playoffs on TV … and spoke of plans for the future. Their whole lives were ahead of them.

Late in the afternoon, he got sleepy and drifted off. Soon it was time for her to go to her Concordia University soccer team practice at Rose City Futsal in Northeast Portland. She planted a kiss on his forehead at about 6:30 p.m. Her sleeping beauty didn’t wake up, but that didn’t seem at all unusual … and certainly was no cause for alarm. He was snoring and seemed fine.

At 8:45 p.m., after her soccer workout and a shower, she noticed three missed calls on her cellphone from his family — and a voice message, saying she needed to go to Providence Willamette Falls Medical Center in Oregon City. Immediately.

“We’re not sure if he’s going to make it.”

As a friend drove the car, Maddie Prehoda prayed all the way that he would be okay. They got there as fast as they could.

“AJ! AJ! Where is he?” she said, running through the hospital entrance.

Staff members looked up at her. Unfortunately, that was all she really needed to know.

“I could tell from their faces,” she said. “Things were not right. It was horrible.”

They gave her the news no one ever wants to hear.

“I was too late. He was gone.”

Just like that, AJ Schlatter, a much, much loved and respected 20-year-old from Canby High, a star linebacker for the Portland Vikings — and “the best man I ever met” — was gone.

Prehoda, back at her family home in Eugene, is trying to cope.

“I’m devastated,” she says.

Nothing makes any sense. AJ had gone in for tonsil surgery. She had just done the same thing in Eugene.

“We both got them removed,” she says. “He came down and helped me get through mine. He never left my side. He got me pudding and ice cream and everything I needed. I came out of it fine.

“So when it came time for his surgery, I had the popsicles and Gatorade and everything ready. I figured it would be a breeze for him.”

She took care of him, post-op, for two days.

“Everything was normal,” she says. “He had none of the warning signs they talk about after a tonsillectomy. And he was being carefully watched.”

AJ’s father, James Schlatter, continued to keep a close eye on him, too, after Prehoda went to her soccer practice. After awhile, he noticed something different about his son.

“His breathing started to become labored,” James Schlatter says. “I could not get him to wake up!”

His father got him off the couch and onto the floor, and at that point AJ stopped breathing.

His dad did rescue breaths, called 911 and started CPR.

“I was going on for about four or five minutes when he coughed up blood, and I thought maybe he was coming around, but all I could do was clear his airway and keep pressing on his chest,” Schlatter says.

Paramedics and police arrived. They worked on AJ for about 20 minutes.

“They tried everything,” his father says.

After the fourth shock and still no response, they agreed to continue and transported AJ to the hospital, where they continued to work for another half-hour.

Then the doctor came in and said they had exhausted all the drugs and still could not get a heartbeat.

The doctor tried one more time. But at about 9:15 p.m., it was over.

The Schlatter family hopes to find out more on Tuesday, when an autopsy is scheduled.

“The medical examiner feels it might have been a blood clot that formed after the surgery,” Schlatter says.

The loss for the family, for the Canby community, for the Portland State Vikings, and for everyone who knew AJ, is almost indescribable, and immeasurable.

“We are all missing him greatly,” his father says. “And the hole isn’t going to close anytime soon.”

Prehoda is doing her best to deal with everything.

“We had plans for life. I had all these things I wanted to do with him,” she says. “He had the sweetest heart.”

AJ Schlatter was in good spirits after Friday’s surgery, largely because he’d been ill during parts of the 2015 PSU football season, as the Vikings roared to a Cinderella, 9-3 season under first-year head coach Bruce Barnum.

The Vikings climbed as high as fifth in the national rankings and made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs. Schlatter had been forced to miss some action because of his health issues, but he was still superb enough on the field, as just a redshirt freshman, to earn not only a Big Sky defensive player of the week honor but also a scholarship.

That was a fitting tribute to his efforts on and off the field, ever since he practically begged his way into the program as a freshman walk-on.

In bed at home over the weekend, AJ confidently told Prehoda, “Now I’ll never be sick again.”

He felt the tonsil problems had held him back as a player in 2015. He had had abcesses in his throat that became “super infected,” Prehoda says.

“He was really excited to get done with the surgery so he could get back to football,” she says. “He was super optimistic.

“He seemed really happy. He was talking on the phone to his mom (who was in Eugene with his sister at a volleyball tournament) and making his usual jokes with her.

“He was so excited about life. He was always so excited about life. He told me, ‘This is the first step. Now I’ve got to work harder from here.’”

AJ Schlatter always worked hard, and he always helped others around him.

“He pushed me to be a better athlete,” says Prehoda, who transferred to Concordia from Portland State. “He knew I had a lot of potential, and he believed in me and in whatever I wanted to do.”

They worked out a lot together. They played soccer against each other.

“It was very fun,” she says.

He was 6-2, 205 pounds. She was a 5-6, Academic All-Big Sky Conference defender from South Eugene High.

“He could pick me up, do pushups with me on his back … such a strong man with such a strong drive,” she says.

They lived and played and had fun that way from the very beginning of their relationship.

“The day we met, he wouldn’t stop staring at me,” she recalls. “I just kept looking down and then looking up at him, and we smiled at each other, and then I saw him the next day and we started hanging out. We went to the pool at the rec, and ever since then we were inseparable.

“Everything about him … you wanted to be around him. He was so positive, so selfless. Everything he did made you want to be better.”

They had more than sports in common, too.

“We could watch Netflix and talk about everything all night and never get tired of each other,” she says.

She loved his family; he loved her family.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful man, from a great family,” she says. “He was a family man. I think that was the thing I loved the most about him.

“AJ described his dad as a superhero who knew everything about everything. ‘He’s my Superman,’ AJ would say about his dad.”

Losing AJ is “heartbreaking” to all, she says. She’s not sure what she’s going to do now.

“He was my best friend. He meant everything to me,” she says. “I was blessed to know him for as long as I did.

“Nothing really replaces who I would love to talk to right now. I’m devastated. I can’t believe he’s gone.”

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