Family of Geneva High School student swimmer James Oliver remembers him as ‘always smiling’

Rob and Molly Oliver were out shopping when a call came from their oldest son, Sean: Their younger son, James, a 14-year-old Geneva High School freshman, had passed out after swim practice.

James was taken by helicopter to Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago for emergency surgery and was in critical condition for nine days until the time of his death.

Rob Oliver said they didn’t realize how serious the situation was until they showed up at the hospital and were met by a team of doctors.

James suffered an AVM stroke – an arteriovenous malformation, which is an abnormal tangle of blood vessels that causes problems with the connections between arteries and veins, his father said. The stroke damaged James’ cerebellum and brain stem, he said.

James died a little over a week later, on the evening of Dec. 17.

Oliver said things have been a blur since the day of the stroke. He said his wife Molly didn’t leave her son’s side while James was in the hospital.

“We didn’t know what his fate was,” Oliver said. “We were hopeful at first, but every day that went by without him showing improvement made it more clear that things weren’t going to get better.”

Oliver said every day that passed without improvement was a sign that James wasn’t going to be able to live without being hooked up to machines, and that wasn’t what they wanted for their son.

Friends of the family started a GoFundMe while James was hospitalized, and many community members have volunteered to be part of a meal train that brings the Olivers a meal every day, which he said is currently four or five weeks long. The fundraiser has raised nearly $40,000 of the $50,000 goal.

“It’s been encouraging to see all the support that the community has given us,” Oliver said. “It’s been nice but sad, looking at pictures and getting things together for his funeral.”

Rob Oliver described his son as a well-liked, active boy who was always smiling. Teachers, students, classmates and neighbors all really enjoyed being around him, he said.

Oliver said James had a great group of friends who were good, polite kids who never made trouble and frequently slept over at their house. He loved video games, and Rob said they could always hear him in his room talking with friends for hours while gaming online.

James was athletic and had been swimming for several years. He swam with the Geneva River Rats and the West Chicago Sharks. Rob said James was ‘growing like a weed’ and had passed his father and brother in height in the last year.

Oliver said James loved sports and trading cards, and he and his brother would often go to trading card shows and come back with either a bunch of money or a bunch of new cards.

James also liked to bake. He took cooking classes at school and never missed an opportunity to bake Christmas cookies and desserts with his grandmother, Rob Oliver said.

The family has been hearing from a lot of people, and every one of James’ teachers has reached out to say how much they loved him and loved having him around and sharing stories about how he was always positive and smiling, Rob said.

Oliver recalled the story of James’ baptism: While all the other children were crying, he said the priest was taken aback when James was the only one giggling and enjoying himself the entire time.

Funeral arrangements for James Oliver include a wake on Friday, Dec. 22, from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Malone Funeral Home, 324 E. State St., Geneva.

A funeral mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 23, at St John Neumann Catholic Church, 2900 E. Main St., St. Charles.

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