Jacob Brockhoff was only 10 years old when he started writing out his last will and testament. He wrote letters to people he loved, picked the songs he wanted played at his funeral and identified the guests he wanted to pay their last respects.
That might sound morbid to some, but not to Jacob, now 12, living in Bradenton and in the seventh grade at the Manatee School for the Arts.
He knew at age 10 that he suffered from a heart disease called Tetralogy of Fallot
and knew that he might not have as long to live as other young people might expect. In short, ToF is a heart disease that is caused by a narrow pulmonary valve to the heart. Less blood is allowed to flow to the lungs, which means the blood cannot be completely purified.
So he set about preparing for the worst, becoming fixated on the idea that he might die young.
Concerned that her son was a bit too focused on his fate, his mother, Molly, sent her son to his room with a project. Draw pictures, she said. Jacob had always been talented at drawing, so she told him to draw images of his favorite things, anything to get his mind out of the macabre.
Jacob, who had always loved skateboarding and was allowed by doctors to continue the sport because it kept the strain off his heart, went to his room and drew. And drew. And drew some more about things that made him happy.
He soon started combining the two things he loved most: skateboarding and drawing. Out of the combo came designs and images no one had considered for skateboards.
The more he did, the more he thought about what else he could do with his drawings and skateboards. Soon he emerged from his room one day with a plan: He would combine his skateboarding and drawing skills to raise money for others with heart diseases.
When he showed his mom his drawings, he also showed her a business plan.
"All I wanted was for him to get his mind off of funeral music,'' Molly says. "He had the whole thing mapped out. The drawings were great and he had the plans to make it work and he was just 10 years old.''
Jacob's idea was to use his drawings and put them on skateboards that would be marketed nationally. It culminated with the formation of his own company, Broken Hart Bords
(yes, he knows that's not the proper way to spell "heart'' and "boards,'' but he likes it that way).
Each skateboard is unique and features his logo, which consists of a heart with a face toward the top. Sharing The Profits
As far as proceeds, he decided, a third would go to the American Heart Association
. A third would go to the American Heart Heroes
, a program that reaches out to children living with cardiovascular diseases to provide opportunities to come together with other children sharing the same obstacles and fears. And a third would be for himself.
At first, Jacob wanted to use his portion of the money to buy a dune buggy. Now, it is all going toward his college fund. So far, Jacob has raised nearly $1,400 for each charity as well as himself, although some of the proceeds have gone back into his business.
Congenital heart diseases affect about one in 125 babies, and heart defects are the most common of birth defects. There are more than 35 congenital heart diseases for which there is no known cure, and Jacob says he wants to do his part to make sure someone can find an answer.
"My problem is never going to go away,'' Jacob says. "If I can do something for somebody else, that makes it worth it. It doesn't even feel like work. I love to draw and I love to skateboard, so it seemed like a good idea.''
Jacob took his message to the nation when he appeared on the nationally syndicated Bonnie Hunt Show last year. He was interviewed for several minutes and it came off without a hitch.
"I've had a lot to be scared of,'' he says. "Why should I be scared about being on television?''
Two years ago, Jacob was told that he'd never be able to skateboard again -- one of his legs was shorter than the other as a result of his disease. More protein was getting to one leg than the other, but no worries. Jacob soon had an instep installed into his shoe so that his posture evened out. Now he's one of the most active skateboarders at Blackstone Park in Palmetto, right across the street from Palmetto High School.
Seeing Beyond Scars
After the success of his skateboard business started to pay his bills, Jacob started designing T-shirts. He made more than 100 of them and had them distributed through Champs Sports, a national sporting goods store; Jacob kept all the profits from the T-shirts. Producing them can be expensive, so future plans for the T-shirt end of his business are on hold.
He's also taking other ways to get the word out about heart disease. He's the Subway Poster Child for Manatee County and is a finalist in a national vote to determine Subway's national spokesperson.
For now, though, Jacob is content having fun in Bradenton, just hanging out with his friends. Although the scars under his heart are visible when he takes his shirt off, and that's the way he likes to skate, the scar simply blends in with many others, the battle wounds of someone who rides at high speeds on a small plank and tries to jump higher than his own head. Indeed, his knees and thighs look like a railroad map with all the scars, so the heart operation scar seems to blend in well.
The scars are worth it, even the one under his heart, he says.
"I ignore them,'' says Jacob, who spends a lot of time hanging out at the Underground Skate Shop in Bradenton. "Anything that hurts now is nothing compared to what has happened before, so I just try to have fun. I try not to think about it.''
His heart disease is something Jacob has to deal with every day for the rest of his life. As long as he can keep skating and helping others, that's all that matters to him. It's all part of the heart of the matter.
To purchase one of Jacob Brockhoff's skateboards, check his website at www.brokenhartbords.com.Jeff Berlinicke of Tampa is a freelance writer who has spent much of the last 15 years covering professional sports all over the SE United States. When not rooting for his favorite teams, he often can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen or teeing up on local golf courses. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.