Mother grateful for ‘Christmas miracle’ after young actor collapses on Theatre Lawrence stage


Jake Leet, right, in his Donkey costume with cast mates before a performance of "Shrek" at Theatre Lawrence.


Jake Leet, 20, lies in a medically induced coma at Lawrence Memorial Hospital after collapsing on stage during a Theatre Lawrence performance of "Shrek." Leet played Donkey in the musical. "We're talking about one hour he's on stage captivating an audience and making kids laugh," his mother Teri Leet said. "And half an hour later, lying on a table unconscious."


Jake Leet, 20, was diagnosed with a heart defect after a heart attack caused him to collapse on stage during a performance of "Shrek" at Theatre Lawrence. Leet, who played Donkey, emerged from a medically induced coma as himself, with no apparent permanent damage, family said.


Donkey, played by Jake Leet, tries to escape from the dragon during a dress rehearsal for Theatre Lawrence's production of "Shrek."

When 20-year-old Jake Leet collapsed on stage Saturday night, audience members may have thought it was scripted — after all he was playing Donkey, the most physically animated character in Theatre Lawrence’s “Shrek.”

But castmates quickly realized something was wrong. Jake was not breathing and had no pulse.

Jake’s mother, Teri Leet of Lawrence, calls what happened next and in the following days a “Christmas miracle.” Thanks to the right people being in the right place at the right time, she said, Jake is on his way to full recovery after cardiac arrest caused by a previously undiagnosed heart defect.

“Typically this kind of thing does not end well,” Teri said. “All the stars were aligned.”

Jake, a Lawrence High School grad who’s been acting in local productions since childhood, was in his second performance of the day on the final weekend of “Shrek,” running since Dec. 6. His physical portrayal of Donkey — “He hurls himself around the stage with total abandon,” the Journal-World reviewer wrote of his show-stealing performance — happens within a hot, furry, padded suit.

As Jake stood to sing a solo after a particularly strenuous scene in the first act, he lost his breath and keeled over backwards, his mother said. Cast and crew members rushed to his side. Someone cleared the audience from the theater. And a doctor, a nurse and other medical professionals in the audience began CPR, keeping it up until the ambulance arrived.

At Lawrence Memorial Hospital, Jake’s parents learned he’d had a heart attack and was on life support in a medically induced coma. Doctors did not know how much damage had occurred, to his heart or his brain.

“He looked dead when we saw him,” Teri said. “We never got to talk to him. He didn’t get to squeeze our hand, anything. We were just lost.”

In the waiting room, a cluster of Shrek characters — a few with makeup on or mic’s still attached — held each other and cried, Teri said. She was amazed by the outpouring of support, which soon started coming in via text and social media from the theater community in Topeka, Kansas City and beyond.

Theatre Lawrence cancelled its last performance of “Shrek” on Sunday as everyone awaited word on Jake.

Doctors removed him from the ventilator Monday morning, and his mother worried: Would he be able to breathe on his own? Did he lose brain function? Would he be able to speak?

“We were all hopeful, praying that he would regain consciousness,” she said. “And he did — immediately became our Jacob.”

Jake was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a heart condition in which there is an abnormal extra electrical pathway of the heart. Monday afternoon, Jake was transferred to Olathe Medical Center for a procedure to ablate the problem area, hopefully curing him of the defect for good, his mother said.

Teri doesn’t know the names of everyone who sprung to action to help her son that night. But she wants them to know she is thankful.

“They’re all calling it a Christmas miracle,” she said. “The true gift is all the people around him.”


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