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  • Ednold

March Gladness Part 1 3/13/21

Updated: Mar 14, 2021


It’s March, and the college basketball madness is off to a great start. Even if the Beavers hadn't won their first conference championship in decades, I'd still be reflecting on some serious college basketball gladness right now. Sometimes madness and gladness go hand-in-hand, and in this story you’ll have to take them both together.


Today is a big day for me. To my great relief, I can report to you all that I have finally found a new job. Mom always wanted a doctor in the family and, though it took much longer than expected, here I am: Dr. Ednold. It’s only a volunteer position so far, so the pay isn’t very good. And the benefits package could be better, but having everyone call me “Doctor” is going to be awesome. It’s just a self-appointed position since I don’t actually have a diploma, or certification, or any other credentials, and I haven’t had any real training to speak of. But I think of myself as a doctor now and everyone will be calling me doctor and that’s what really counts, right?. Why, you may wonder, have I started considering myself a doctor? Do I really know enough to be deserving of the title? Well, let me tell you this story and then you can judge for yourself. It’s a long story involving lots of people. and I’ll be jumping around a bit. So keep up, and when it’s all over you can decide if my mom really does have a doctor for a son or not.


2020

A few months ago the University of Florida’s star basketball player, Keyontae Johnson, collapsed during a game against Florida State for no apparent reason. One minute he was dunking after receiving an ally-oop pass from a teammate. The next, he lost consciousness and fell face-first to the court. It came as a shock to everyone who witnessed it. In the days afterward fans, sports pages, and online pundits debated the cause of such a strange occurrence. As of an interview given in mid-February, Kayontae said he had still not been given an explanation for his collapse. To him, and his family and his doctors, it’s still a mystery. But for me, there has never been much doubt. Until then I had never thought of myself as a doctor, and I live on the other side of the country. But as soon as I heard about it I knew what had happened.


1989-1990


Hank Gathers was born in Philadelphia in 1967. By the time he and superstar teammate Bo Kimble led Dobbins High School to the 1985 Philadelphia City championship they had both committed to playing college ball for Southern California. After their freshman season at USC George Raveling took over as head coach and, not seeing eye-to-eye with him, they both transferred about ten miles west to Loyola Marymount University where head coach Paul Westhead had implemented a high scoring run-and-gun system that Hank and Bo were attracted to. Together they led the Lions to NCAA tournament appearances in 1988 and 1989 while the team averaged more than 110 points per game. In the 1989-90 season Gathers became only the second player ever to lead the nation in both points and rebounds per game. So, when I heard that Loyola would be playing a game at Gill Coliseum against the Beavers I got a couple of tickets for myself and Mrs. Ednold. The circus was coming to town and I didn’t want to miss it.

Unfortunately, Gathers collapsed during a game on Dec. 9 and was still recovering when his team took the floor in Corvallis ten days later. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see him play, but the game was still unforgettable. OSU had a pretty good senior player themselves that season in Gary Payton, and he and Bo Kimble put on a show. Payton made 71% of his shots and scored 48 points, only to be outshone by Kimble, who shot 77% to end up with 53 points, and I have no memory of the 23% of his shots he missed. It seemed like they all went in. I remember at one point Mrs. Ednold and I just busting out laughing at the ridiculousness of it all. Loyola won the game 117-113, and the 230 total points scored by the two teams was a Gill Coliseum record. It probably still is.


A few months later there was another night I won’t ever forget, nor will any basketball fan who had the television turned on that night. On March 4, 1990, March Madness was just getting underway and Loyola Marymount was facing the University of Portland in a semi-final game of the West Coast Conference tournament. Midway through the first half, with Loyola up 25-13, Hank collapsed again.

2014


Chai Baker was a basketball standout from Jackson County, Florida, and attended Malone High School. Malone has won 14 state basketball titles, and Chai and older brother Ty, another Malone legend who was a state champion himself at Chipola Junior College, were not the first generation of their family to play prominent roles in the Tigers’ hoop success. Their father led the Tigers to a state title in 1991. Two of their uncles were part of a five-year state champion dynasty in the mid-90’s. Another uncle was Most Valuable Player of another State Championship game. But Chai was the best of them all. Watching a video of the 2014 state championship game it’s clear that he was in a class by himself on that court. Which poison would you like: Get up in his grill so he can drive right around you to the hoop? Lay off and give him room to bury a 3? Or maybe you want to double-team him so he can find his open teammate for an easy bucket? Good luck with that. He finished with 44 points in that game, leading Malone to yet another state title.

In what was a surprise to many in that area, Chai turned down many other offers and chose to be part of the Conference of Champions and play college ball for First Brother-in-Law Craig Robinson at Oregon State. By the time Chai arrived on campus in Corvallis in mid-July Robinson had been replaced by new coach Wayne Tinkle, but Chai was impressed by the new coach and stuck to his choice to become a Beaver.

About a month after arriving in Corvallis, on the morning of August 19, Chai and the rest of the team were having an informal workout in the practice facility on campus. As they were going through a routine lay-up drill Chai was taking his turns as shooter and rebounder until, waiting in line for his next turn, he fell to the floor unconscious.

2016

After graduating from Marianna High School just a few weeks ago, Herman Williams of Marianna, Florida is preparing to relocate to Lafayette, Louisiana. He should have been there already but chose to stay home for a few extra weeks so he could celebrate his birthday with his family before he left. After turning down offers from the likes of Mississippi State and Tennessee he has chosen to play basketball for the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns. After four years as a high school standout Williams will be leaving in two weeks to fulfill his dream and join the other freshmen in a five-player recruiting class. Graduating from Marianna in 2016, Williams is two years younger than Chai Baker, but Malone and Marianna are only separated by a dozen miles or so and the two players had become well acquainted through the similar experience of being stars in their respective communities. At 6’2”, Herman is a floor leader with quickness, ankle-breaking moves, and a sweet outside jump shot. And while you’re lying on the floor nursing your ankle, take a moment to glance up while he wrecks the rim with a selection from his impressive repertoire of dunks.


On this Monday night Herman is at the First Baptist Church in downtown Marianna playing in a pick-up game with friends. Of course, Herman is having his way with the competition until, after scoring and handing the ball off to the other team, he falls to the ground unconscious.


1990


32-year-old Tom Fregoso, in his sixth year as the University of Portland Pilots' head athletic trainer, ran to where Gathers had fallen in a heap near mid-court. Along with LMU trainer Chip Schaefer, Fregoso assessed the situation and helped get Gathers on a stretcher and take him outside to await an ambulance. Since Schaefer and Fregoso were old college classmates from Utah, Fregoso hadn’t been entirely in the dark about Gathers’ condition since his first collapse early in the season. Schaefer had discussed the situation with him and the two had shared their opinions about the proper treatment of someone in that position. Gathers had been cleared to play by medical personnel but at the time little was known about what to expect and there was little information on how a trainer should handle an athlete with a heart condition. Once outside, as the trainers, team physician, and paramedics worked on him, Gathers’ heart stopped beating and Fregoso performed CPR for the four or five minutes it took for the ambulance to arrive and speed him to the hospital.

Hank Gathers was pronounced dead later that evening. He didn’t get to see his team make it to the final eight of the NCAA tournament that year.


2014


That Tuesday morning at just after 11:00 I walked in my front door to the sound of my phone ringing. Nobody outside my family had my cell number so I knew it was important, but I wasn’t prepared for what I heard. From the other end of the line a family friend was telling me that Chai had been in an accident and that I needed to get to the Emergency Room ASAP. I sped across town through traffic and screeched The Bucket to a stop in what I hoped was a parking space outside the ER and ran inside.


I was just in time to be greeted by a crowd of family and basketball-family giving me the news that Chai had just been moved to the ICU and we would be reconvening in a conference room upstairs to discuss what had happened and what the plan was. Upstairs, in our room across the hall from where Chai lay, Mrs. Ednold and I met coach Tinkle, his family and the other coaches. As the new staff, most of them hadn’t been in town long themselves but the Tinkle family and the others were already as orange as we could have hoped. Coach outlined for us the events of that morning and praised Tom Fregoso for his quick action that had allowed Chai to hang on long enough to make it to the hospital. It was Tom who, present at the practice that morning and being alerted by the players and student trainers, rushed to the scene and took charge of the situation. Chai’s heart stopped beating for a few minutes before Tom, using a combination of chest compressions and the portable defibrillator now required by the NCAA at all college gymnasiums, was able to reestablish a heartbeat.

As a frequent attendee at Beaver basketball games over the years I had seen Tom many times going through the routine duties of an athletic trainer: Wrapping ankles and attending to the sprains, scratches and bruises received by players during the course of a game. But I had no idea he had been present at Hank Gathers’ final game and had assisted in the efforts to keep him alive. In 2002 Tom had made the move from Portland to OSU where, for the second time, his expertise would be required to help save a dying athlete.


When I was finally allowed to go across the hall and see Chai in his ICU room, it was shocking to see my nephew with so many tubes and wires going to and from all of the different places on his body: He was a teenager. He was an elite athlete. It was almost unthinkable that he had suffered cardiac arrest and was relying on those tubes and wires to keep him alive. It was a feeling of disbelief that I think all of us will always have to one degree or another.

The following day Chai’s mother and aunt arrived in town to consult with the medical staff and coaches. With the help of Dr. Doug Aukerman, who works with both the OSU Athletic Department and Samaritan Health to coordinate care for athletes, Chai underwent multiple tests and was quickly diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). Although not usually fatal, HCM is the most common genetic cardiac condition and also the most common cause of heart-related sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) in people under 30, but it often goes undetected. Unless someone is specifically looking for it it is difficult to diagnose and it affects each person differently.

In the following days and weeks, during which Chai was able to be moved to a normal hospital room and eventually to our home to recover, we all learned why it had happened, and that it wasn’t nearly as rare an occurrence for athletes like Chai as we had all thought.

Nearly 1 in 500 people have HCM but in most cases, such as Chai’s, there are no symptoms at all. A routine sports physical, even one done at the university level, won’t catch it. The good news is that it can be detected with a 10 minute non-invasive ultrasound procedure, and in many other countries where the issue has been more fully recognized, screening protocols have been established and have greatly reduced SCA.


During those weeks we spent a lot of time on the phone and in person with Basketball Director of Operations Kurt Paulson, and if you ever needed a reason to root for the Carroll College basketball team from Helena, Montana, that’s the best one I can give you. Kurt has since taken the head coaching job at Carroll and took the Fighting Saints to the national championship game in his very first season. That could not have happened to a nicer, more caring guy, who maintained the communication loop regarding Chai’s condition, the basketball team, the university, the hospital, and us.


2016


As Herman Williams lay on the ground unconscious, a small group of onlookers at the game scrambled to the fire station across the street for help. At the front of that group was Chai Baker, who had been on the sidelines dribbling a ball while watching his friend do his thing on the court. It was the first and only time since his own collapse that Chai had actually run, but despite risking his own safety to find help for his friend, he could never have run fast enough. When help arrived Herman was rushed to Jackson County Hospital where they were unable to revive him and he was pronounced dead a short time later.


2015 -

Within weeks Chai had received an implanted defibrillator and been ordered to avoid any but the least intense of physical activity. To say it was difficult for him and his whole family to grapple with the idea that he would never play basketball again would be the understatement of all understatements. In the months ahead he returned to Florida to continue his recovery and begin planning a completely new course for a completely new life. The added trauma of then having to witness the death of his friend in circumstances that so closely reflected those of his own experience is simply unimaginable.

Chai’s episode could have happened at any time. Had it happened a few weeks earlier, things probably would have turned out differently. It’s almost like he came all the way here just so that when it happened he would be surrounded by the best medical response that a big-time college campus could provide. He was in a community where some of the best cardiac care in the country was just a short ambulance ride away. He had Tom Fregoso, that veteran of the Hank Gathers event, in the room to put his years of experience to work within moments. Two days prior, I had dropped Chai off at the gym so he could shoot some baskets by himself. On his own. Nobody else around. Why didn‘t it happen then? I’ll let you all answer that for yourselves. Whatever that answer is, I’m just glad that it worked out the way it did.

I don’t know if Keyontae Johnson has ever heard of HCM, but I certainly hope he has doctors looking for every possible sign of it. He tested positive for Covid-19 before the start of the season, and early speculation was that the virus had something to do with the collapse, but it didn’t take long for doctors to rule that out. As of a few weeks ago, Johnson said he still doesn’t know what caused it. He won’t be returning this season, but said he expects to be back on the basketball court by this summer. I’m rooting for him, and I seriously hope he’s right. But if he is, that would mean I’m wrong and, well, who am I kidding? Not bloody likely. After all, I am a doctor.


It will probably come as no surprise that all of this has left a mark on my family that stretches from one end of the country to the other. But as gloomy as this story is, it could have been so much worse. And while I’m enjoying March Madness I’ll also be feeling a whole lot of March Gladness that my nephew was still around to enjoy seeing our Beavers win the conference championship.


Since this year's version of March Madness includes the genuine madness of a springtime high school football season, Part 2 of this story probably won’t be ready until next month. But I promise it will be a little lighter and brighter than this first part. It will include the story of how Chai’s two favorite uncles, Uncle Ednold and Uncle Randy, worked tirelessly to teach him and his brother everything they ever knew about playing basketball. You won’t want to miss it.


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2 comentários


gilromastew
gilromastew
14 de mar. de 2021

I will gladly call you a doctor. This blog was more educational than entertaining and I'm thankful for that. I didn't really understand exactly what had happened to Chia and I'd never heard of HCM. Thanks for bringing us up to speed. RJS

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gilromastew
gilromastew
14 de mar. de 2021

Thanks Ednold for the "Chia" update. I especially appreciated the history and context....the few other HCM events we know of, and sadly the many that were never diagnosed.


Chia was such a fine young man, ready to take his place in Beaver history. ( After all he had the gift of Uncle Ednold's basketball help.) And I'm guessing he is well on his way to becoming a fine older man. That has me looking forward to Part 2.

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