When I was playing soccer (humor me) at the University of South Carolina in the 1970s, my redeeming quality was an overabundance of perseverance. I managed to score an occasional goal and make a nuisance of myself, mostly to opponents.
At least that’s the way I remember it.
Flash forward to last October when I discovered just how amazing my college soccer career had been. I started having episodes of angina in the summer, which became progressively worse. The one that got my attention, and told me I was more than just a little out of shape, came on Sept. 27 while I was walking from the back of the parking lot at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington for the Maryland-Indiana football game. Married to a nurse, that proved to be the last warning shot.
I mentioned it during my physical a week later and a murmur was detected by nurse practitioner Kelly Traylor. That set off the chain reaction of an echocardiogram, a heart catheterization and then open-heart surgery.
Not only did I need two bypasses, but I learned at the age of 60 that I had a bicuspid aortic valve. In other words, my valve only had two flaps to manage the blood flow instead of the normal three.
Before having to be replaced by pig tissue, those two overworked valve flaps had done quite well in allowing me to play and coach soccer for more than half my life. And I know I wasn’t exactly easy on them, either.
I was given a choice of booking surgery within days of my cath or putting it off for a couple of weeks. Because I had planned to attend a reunion of my teammates that weekend, I was tempted to put it off.
But Dr. Lee Wagmeister has a way of bringing his patients back to reality. He said it was my choice, but “you could have a heart attack and end up getting surgery in South Carolina.”
I skipped the reunion and had my chest split open on Oct. 27 – exactly a month after I finally suspected something wasn’t right.
I’m forever indebted to Dr. Wagmeister, Dr. Scott Starrett and the nursing and rehab staffs of The Heart Hospital at Deaconess Gateway. And yes, I had the loving support of family, friends and former teammates.
I received encouragement from about a dozen former teammates, but there was one in particular that took me back in time and had me slipping on a Carolina soccer T-shirt the morning of my surgery.
It came a few weeks before my surgery from another “doctor.” Bob “Dr. Dirt” Heath was the no-nonsense captain my first two years with the Gamecocks.
“You know the thing that ALWAYS impressed me about you was that you NEVER gave up.”
Anyone who saw me play might question that characterization, but it was nice of Bob to say it. It motivated me going into surgery and again entering cardiac rehab, and now I’m within 15 to 20 pounds of reaching my college playing weight again.
I’m going to get there. I’m not giving up now.