ALTADENA (CBSLA.com) — An Altadena couple remembered the life and sudden death of their teen son who collapsed in a Harvard-Westlake pool earlier this year.
Darrell and Susan Carr said their 16-year-old son, Justin, was a standout at the prestigious Studio City school. He loved his parents, painting, performing, school activities, and architecture.
Justin also loved to swim. He got his start as an infant, and it was something he grew to love.
"When he was probably eight or nine, we went to the Rose Bowl, and he saw kids swimming races, and he said, 'I want to do that,'" said Susan.
Darrell said, "It was an all-city meet, we registered, and they asked, 'What was your last time?' And he said, 'I never swam in a meet before.' And the lady actually said, 'Well, You're not going to win.'"
He added, "They taught him how to dive off the blocks in the pool five minutes before the race. And he didn't want to swim; he's a perfectionist. I said, 'You go in there, and you jump in the water, and you swim like crazy.' He agreed. He got on the blocks. He was the last one to jump in the water after the gun went off. And he beat everybody by a good 10 yards."
Justin surprised his parents from the beginning.
"We weren't ready. We weren't prepared. He was supposed to be born Nov. 2. And he was born Sept. 13. He was born almost six weeks early, so we were afraid, but the doctors said he was a well baby," said Susan.
On Feb. 22, the parents lives changed forever. Justin lost consciousness and collapsed in his school's pool.
"He called me and he said, 'Hi, mom, it's Justin. I'm getting ready to jump in the pool with my phone.' He's laughing. That was a little bit after 3. The next call I get is at 4 o'clock from his friend's mom who said that something terrible has happened to Justin. And I was at work. And she said, 'They're taking him to the hospital.' I just screamed, jumped up, got in the car, was shaking," said Susan.
"It was the worst drive of my life. I couldn't get there fast enough. I called my brother and I couldn't even talk....I don't know what to say," said Darrell. "The anxiety was too much. And then to get the news. It was just too much for any one person to handle. I said, 'This can't be true. This can't be Justin. It just can't be.' Everything that I feared came true."
Susan said, "And then the doctor came in and just shook his head. And I said, 'What are you talking about?' And he said Justin died. It was like out-of-body. You just couldn't believe it."
Justin died from idiopathic hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is a thickness of the heart that can lead to sudden death.
His parents never knew he had it.
It can strike without warning—and it did.
"I want my baby back. I mean, there's all these things we can't do. I mean, it's a nightmare because that's all we strived for all his life was to provide for him and let him be," said Susan.
Darrell and Susan said it's devastating knowing the promise of what could have been.
"Everything that I've done in my life was done for him. I'm struggling right now," said Darrell.
"All those dreams that we had, he had, that we will never know. They'll never be realized," said Susan.
One thing that has helped the couple, however, was keeping Justin's room and his things as they were.
Darrell said, "When I'm in here, I say, 'Well, this is him.' And I'll lay in his bed, too, and reminisce, and sometimes it hurts because I expect to see him laying across the bed because he was always laying across the bed doing homework."
Justin's parents have also launched the Justin Carr Wants World Peace Foundation to teach people about the dangers of cardiomyopathy, and most importantly, to keep Justin's memory alive.
"We are going to try to do what Justin wanted. Try to help some kids," said Darrell.
"An after-school program for visual and performing arts, tutoring and mentoring," said Susan.
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