MONTROSE — Figuratively, Jacobi Krouse has made his mother’s heart stop on more than one occasion.
Before he was 1, he had all the motor skills to go roaming around the house. The game was titled “Find Jacobi.” When he was 2 years old, he climbed on top of the family’s Suburban while his older siblings cheered him on.
“His brother and sister were out on the steps yelling, ‘Yeah, Jacobi, try it. You can fly,’” said his father, Troy Krouse, laughing at the memory.
Kris Krouse, his mom, smiles and shakes her head at the recollections of her youngest’s childhood. She’s aware of her influence, though. She’s a pediatric physical therapist and knows all the ways to strengthen kids and prepare them for life.
And as well as she and Troy instilled a hard-working, never-give-up attitude in Jacobi, life at the Krouse household has been a roller coaster of emotions lately for everyone.
Troy — a cattle, hog and grain farmer — was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had surgery in August that slowed him down from work. Now, Kris, too, will be undergoing an operation next week for a thymoma, a tennis-ball-sized tumor above the heart, in what will be the same procedure as open-heart surgery.
For Jacobi, his parents’ health is constantly on his mind while he also navigates being a senior student-athlete during the age of the coronavirus. Life’s hurdles have undoubtedly come fast for the record-setting running back for McCook Central/Montrose’s football team.
“It’s hard to understand what that feels like,” Jacobi said, also noting that two family members, including his great-grandma, recently died. “At first, when I opened up about it, it was overwhelming. Why should I care about high school and sports when this is what’s happening? Then I realized that well, if we just focus on all the bad, then there’s nothing to be happy about.”
Despite all the adversity and unknowns, the Krouses know there’s plenty to be happy about. Whether it’s football, work or family, their attitudes stay positive.
Not her first surgery
It’s somewhat theatrical watching Kris describe what her surgery on Sept. 30 in Sioux Falls at the Avera Heart Hospital will look like. She makes the motion of getting her sternum cut open, her rib cage spread and her heart worked on.
She’s used to surgeries. Or at least she’s had so many that she’s more comfortable on the operating table than the average person. Most notable was her 1995 car crash in which she broke the C2 vertebrae at the top of the cervical spine.
She was driving with her seat belt fastened and was rear-ended, forcing her head forward as a sort-of whiplash.
“I should be on a respirator,” she said. “They don’t know why I lived. Typically when you break C2, one of the questions they ask in PT school is what happens when you break C2, and the answer is death.”
While the break wasn’t recognized immediately, months later she eventually had an eight-hour surgery to have a halo placed on her head — yes, screws into the skull — at age 25. She wore it for five months.
Working with children was always her desire. So when the car crash happened, she took it as an opportunity for educating by traveling around the region to show schools the halo and how it kept her neck immobile.
“I showed them pictures of what was in my neck and had them look at it,” she said. “When I was out of the halo, I brought it back — and I’d put it on the kids. They thought that was kind of cool.”
She started her job for the James Valley Educational Cooperative in 1997. Today, she motivates kids from Parkston, Woonsocket, Sanborn Central and Mitchell who have physical disabilities to consistently improve. Whether the child was born premature, has Down syndrome, spina bifida, or any other physical limitation that impacts their developmental growth, Kris is there for them each week.
There is significant optimism that the tumor isn’t cancerous and is only benign. And while that’s positive, the hardest part of having surgery for her won’t be the fear itself or the recovery. Instead, it will be missing her kids as she’s expecting to be out of work for a minimum of two months.
“I love my kids. It’s always been that way that when I see a little child, they just light up my heart,” she said, tearing up. “If I’m down, I text a family and they send me a picture — and then I’m back up. That’s what’s gotten me through this.”
Added Troy: “The hope is for her body to heal so she can resume her activities after,” he said. “It would kill her if she couldn’t do her job. Those kids, she eats and sleeps that stuff.”
It’s the days like a week or so ago, she says, that help her forget her surgery is even scheduled when she helped a young girl take her first steps. It’s always a fulfilling joy to see, even though she’s seen hundreds of first steps.
‘He’s gone through a lot’
On Friday night, McCook Central/Montrose and Jacobi took the field against Bridgewater-Emery/Ethan in what was an anticipated matchup of two highly ranked teams in 11B football. It was Jacobi’s 18th and golden birthday. (He shares a birthday with his mom, but don’t ask Kris her age.)
Jacobi is the youngest of the family. His sister, Jocelyn, 19, and brother, Caleb, 22, who both had successful high school athletic careers, watched along the fence last week in Bridgewater cheering their brother on under the Friday night lights. The game didn’t turn out as MCM hoped, losing 52-6, but Jacobi’s individual season statistics thus far have been anything but underwhelming.
As any smart running back would do, he credits his offensive line for much of his success. Through four games, he’s rushed for 1,058 yards and has 14 touchdowns. While he was held out of the end zone on Friday night, perhaps the most memorable game of the year came just a week earlier. He set the state record for rushing yards in an 11-man game with a jaw-dropping 421 yards on 43 carries. Oh, and he scored six touchdowns in the win.
"It’s not that there’s pressure, but just it’s a lot more fun to talk about your son running for 400-some yards than it is to talk about cancer and death. So I feel like I help brighten the mood. That’s what I try to do. I try to put on a show so everyone’s happy."
- Jacobi Krouse
“He’s a great kid, and I know he’s gone through a lot with his family situation and everything, but he’s been persevering and we’ve really put a lot on his back,” said Krouse’s coach, Shawn Flanagan.
Each week he takes the field, Jacobi admits he thinks about his family, the adversity and all that’s going on — and all he wants to do is put on a show.
“It’s not that there’s pressure, but just it’s a lot more fun to talk about your son running for 400-some yards than it is to talk about cancer and death,” Jacobi said. “So I feel like I help brighten the mood. That’s what I try to do. I try to put on a show so everyone’s happy.”
Just deal with it
Troy met Kris at a street dance while she was still in college. They married in 1992.
Because there’s a history of cancer in Troy’s family, and with Kris’ encouragement, Troy has been proactively doctoring since age 25.
It was during his regular checkup this year that it was discovered he had cancer. His surgery to remove it was on Aug. 3, and all indications are positive that it’s gone. Since then, he’s been on a weight-lifting restriction, which has seriously hampered his ability to farm.
To ensure his health was up to par, Kris wanted Troy to have a couple more screens completed -- and when a heart monitor check was ordered for Troy, she agreed to one as well.
Troy’s came back clear — Kris’ showed the tumor.
“I keep telling everybody, ‘We’re gonna deal with this and get through it, just like COVID,” Troy said. “And whatever cards we’re dealt, that’s the cards we’re going to play. We’re all doing the best we can.”
And that’s the mentality the family is taking during an otherwise challenging few months.
“I don’t want to focus on the win-lose-draw,” Troy said. “I want them to compete and learn because that’s the life lessons you need. I don’t like that bull---- of winning and losing being the main things. I want them to have the life lessons, because there’s a whole lot more to life than just winning and losing some football games.”