A middle school cheerleader who died suddenly over the weekend had a nagging hamstring injury but a doctor cleared her to perform, her father said.
Lilliana Schalk, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, was at an event in Columbus, Ohio to perform on Feb. 23.
The morning of the competition, she told her father that her hamstring was bothering her, so they went to a doctor. The doctor took an X-ray and said the hamstring appeared fine.
The Kentucky father and daughter then went to Ohio for the event but during warm-ups Lilliana told her coach that something was wrong, prompting the coach to seek her father out.
“Coach says, ‘She’s kinda out of sorts, things definitely not normal,’” Dan Schalk KWCH. “So we call a life squad, took her to the ER and things quickly degraded there to the ICU.”
Schalk said symptoms included hamstring pain, numbness in Lillian’s hands, and general weakness.
The surreal situation happened so fast.
“Maybe she was dehydrated? Pinched nerve? I thought dehydrated—first thought. And when you saw all the doctors come to you, you had to think ‘What is going on, right?’ All this for this, what is going on?” he said, describing the situation at the hospital.
“And the liaison took me back and was like in a very short time, she said. ‘Is there somebody you should call?’ And I said, ‘For what reason?’ And she said, ‘This is pretty serious,’ and I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” Schalk added.
His daughter’s heart stopped a total of four times and she died within hours.
“We went from waiting for her to perform at 5:50 p.m. to holding her hand and they announced that she had passed at 7:40—the only thing I can say was, ‘What the hell just happened? What happened? How can this be?’ Just gone,” he said. “I can’t get my head around it at all,” Schalk said. “No discoloration, no tiredness, no weakness, no confusion—her grades all straight A’s across the board. Fit, athletic, no indication [of illness] and of course I’m racking my brain. Did I miss something?”
Results of an autopsy to determine the cause of death are still pending.
Fort Thomas Independent School district confirmed the death on Feb. 24 in a statement to the community.
“Lilliana passed away suddenly yesterday,” the district stated. “She is beloved by so many and we know our students will need help through the grieving process.”
Premier Athletics of Northern Kentucky Athletic Director Kevin Nieporte said that Lilliana was one of the squad’s most talented cheerleaders. Despite being in middle school, she was on the varsity co-ed squad.
He said she was also a kind person who was friends with many.
“She was the nicest,” Nieporte told the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Her coach Rosalind Schmidt said that the entire team was devastated by the sudden death.
“This one said she was a great teammate. ‘Wild, crazy and hilarious;’ ‘I’ll never forget you, little one. I will love you forever. You always have a special place in my heart, pretty girl,’” she told WKRC, reading notes left in memory of Lilliana.
“She was pretty on the inside and beautiful on the inside, and we want to keep paying remembrance to her and how much joy she brought to people in this gym,” Schmidt added.
In her 25 years as a cheer coach, Lilliana shined the brightest, the coach said, which is why she was always positioned in the middle front.