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Local Middle Schooler Designs Nike Shoe To Benefit Doernbecher

If Jacob Burris, an eighth grader at Shasta Middle School, and his parents hadn’t followed up on a high blood pressure reading at a routine checkup, doctors may never have detected the life-threatening heart condition that sent the 13-year-old to OHSU Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland last year. 

Now, because of his time at Doernbecher, Jacob is designing his own shoe at Nike as part of a fundraiser for the children’s hospital.

The Doernbecher Freestyle program started in 2004 as a way for young patients to create a shoe of their own design — Nike donates all proceeds from the shoes to Doernbecher. This year, Doernbecher chose six patients to work with Nike, and Jacob was the only Eugenean selected.  

“It’s such an honor to make money for the hospital that helped him out so much,” says Janice Burris, Jacob’s mother. 

When a local pediatrician detected Jacob’s high blood pressure in May of last year, Janice Burris says she wasn’t too worried. But when the same result came up a few weeks later, she says doctors decided to run tests on Jacob’s kidneys and heart. 

Jacob’s heart test results were sent to Doernbecher. “That’s when we got a call that we should stop whatever we’re doing and come right up to Doernbecher,” Janice Burris says. “We drove up and within a couple of hours they had specialists there ready to do preliminary tests.”

Doctors at Doernbecher diagnosed Jacob with a coarctation of the aorta, a congenital heart defect that until then had gone undetected. The condition required a seven-and-a-half hour surgery last September, in which surgeons replaced a portion of Jacob’s heart with a piece of carbon tube.

“So, Jacob is now bionic,” Janice Burris says, laughing. “He’s doing a lot better now, and his blood pressure has gone down, but we still need to watch it. It’s likely his blood pressure will stay high for life.”

Earlier this year, a physician’s assistant nominated Jacob for the Doernbecher Freestyle program, and Jacob says he’s visited Portland several times this summer to share designs and sketches with the designers at Nike. 

And what design does he have in mind? “That’s classified,” he says, but adds that his design has “a lot of heart.”

Doernbecher will reveal Jacob’s designs and those of the other patients at an Oct. 23 auction in Portland. In November, his shoes will be available to the public at retail locations not yet determined.

Here in Eugene, Jacob passes out buttons and fliers at Saturday Market to help remind people to check their blood pressure. “I was outside running and playing baseball and didn’t know I had high blood pressure,” he says. “Check your blood pressure, because you can’t really feel it sometimes, but if you get it checked, it can help you be safe later on.”