In 2016 I spent my entire last semester at Butler University working on a longform enterprise story.
“Hardwood Heartbreak” tells the story of two basketball players that collapsed and died on the court, looking at the impact sudden cardiac death has on families, communities, and athletics as a whole.
The subject of cardiac health is near and dear to me. I myself am a heart patient. I was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a condition comprised of four heart defects, including a hole in my heart and an unformed pulmonary valve.
I have had three open-heart surgeries — one shortly after birth, one when I was 17 years old, and one in 2014. I am proud to say I am in good health and enjoying life to its fullest.
I’d had the idea of writing a story about cardiac death in athletes since my senior year of high school when a young star athlete from my rival high school collapsed and died on the court to complete an undefeated regular season, a game I attended.
When the opportunity presented itself during my final year at Butler, I decided his story — and the stories other fallen athletes — had to be told.
The stories of Fennville’s Wes Leonard and Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers crossed in March 2011. I was moved to not only share the stories of who they were and what they meant to their communities, but also to look into why sudden cardiac arrest so frequently occurs in seemingly healthy athletes.
What is being done about it? Can it be prevented?
I set out to tell people their stories, in hopes that it would somehow save a life. My hope was that someone would read this story and decided to get a heart screening before playing a sport; or encourage a friend or family member to do so.
While I may never know if my goal was accomplished, I encourage all to take the time read “Hardwood Heartbreak.” Enlighten yourselves about the diseases that go undetected in athletes and what can be done to prevent tragedy.