Extra Effort: Holmen winner fought through transplant, pain

Extra Effort: Holmen winner fought through transplant, pain

From the From Tribune files: 2019-20 Extra Effort Award winners series
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Persevering through pain

Holmen High School Extra Effort winner Jacob Hagen has remained positive through a series of health challenges.

Graduating high school is a special moment in any student’s life, but for Holmen High School senior Jacob Hagen the accomplishment holds a little extra meaning.

Getting to his senior year of high school was a surprise in itself for Hagen. But being alive, and mostly healthy, today is something that was once in question.

When Sara Hagen — Jacob’s mom — was pregnant, she was told that her unborn son may have congestive heart failure and could be stillborn.

Sara eventually learned that her son had posterior urethral valves, a condition which blocks urine flow through the urethra and causes it to reflux into the kidneys. Soon after Jacob was born, he had corrective surgery to remove the blockage, but he was left with irreversible kidney damage.

The setbacks have challenged Holmen’s La Crosse Tribune Extra Effort Award recipient, but his drive for success has always come out on top of every obstacle.

“Honestly for me, getting to senior year is a big shocker,” Jacob said. “I’ve had trouble a lot with having my health issues and it really started to burn me down and I thought I wouldn’t get through school with all of these issues.”

Jacob’s health challenges continued into his high school years.

Jacob made it 14 years before he needed a kidney transplant, and after some testing, his mom turned out to be a perfect match.

He left the hospital one week after receiving the new kidney, but soon returned after contracting the BK virus, which his suppressed immune system couldn’t fight off.

Jacob was in and out of the hospital receiving 12-hour infusions for six months to fend off the virus, but his kidney function kept declining. When things seemed at their worst, Jacob was able to fight it off and pull through.

The celebrations didn’t last long, though, after Jacob contracted Ehrlichia, which is a tick-borne disease.

The disease is so rare that he was the first case that the UW Children’s Hospital had ever seen.

During this time, Jacob was in a special hospital room that circulated clean air, and all visitors were required to wear a mask.

Ehrlichia wasn’t the end of the medical challenges. Jacob came down with influenza and went into shock, which resulted in a helicopter flight to the UW Children’s Hospital — a flight during which Sara was told that her son may not make it.

Despite being in and out of the hospital and fighting off multiple serious health challenges, Jacob was able to battle against everything that was thrown his way.

“I just pushed through it,” he said. “No matter what boundary gets in your way, you just have to push through it no matter what.”

Jacob has pushed through everything with determination, perseverance and a positive attitude. While battling through sickness and pain in the hospital, his top concerns always remained on homework and keeping up with his studies.

Holmen High School counselor Heather Franzini knew that Jacob was battling serious health challenges, and was surprised at the amount of positivity and encouragement that he was able to show.

“Jacob always has such a great attitude about things,” she said. “At times he was scared and they weren’t sure what was going to happen, but through it all he was really brave and was able to stay positive. He had a great sense of humor when sometimes all you needed was a laugh in a time when things were really hard.”

With high school coming to an end, Jacob is focusing on spending time with his friends and family while staying up-to-date on academics.

The senior has always had a passion for history, and once toyed with the idea of becoming a physician to help people who are facing challenges similar to what he battled.

Jacob plans to attend Western Technical College to earn a two-year degree in engineering, which has always interested him.

Despite everything that Jacob has been through, he is able to focus on the positives and on his accomplishments along the way.

“Looking back on it, it wasn’t all that bad. There’s still some days I don’t want to remember because I had this terrible kidney in me, and it can be sad to look back on.

“Getting through high school has been a pain just because of the health issues, but I wouldn’t say it affected me a lot. I was just trying to work through everything.”

If Jacob continues to work through everything like he has done in his first 17 years, he should have no problem accomplishing anything that he sets his mind to.

Jacob is a fighter, and his positivity and determination show no signs of stopping.


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