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March Gladness Part 2 3/27/22

It’s been a while, but I haven’t forgotten. When I wrote the first part of this story a year ago I was planning on a timely follow-up. I have several excellent excuses for why that didn’t happen, but I’ve run out of alibis. March has rolled around again, as it seems to do around this time of year, so it’s time to tell the rest of this story.

First of all, you may be interested to know that I have recently embarked upon yet another career. You’ll remember that this all started with my self-conferred Doctor of Medicine degree, awarded after my diagnosis of University of Florida basketball player Keyontae Johnson’s medical condition. Though his family still hasn’t released any final information regarding his condition, he has still not been cleared to resume play and all signs point to the accuracy of my diagnosis. I’m going to go ahead and print out that diploma and display it on my wall.

But my medical practice has never really taken off the way I had envisioned, so these days I’m paying the bills as a life coach, handing out advice, most of it unsolicited, to those who need it. If your jaw just dropped at the thought of me providing any kind of advice to anyone about anything, I would just ask that you please reserve judgment for another few minutes.

The good news for Keyontae is that he’s covered by NCAA insurance that will pay him $5 million if he isn’t able to resume his athletic career. Though no school will risk allowing him to play, last summer he vowed to play again somewhere, someday, and it’s possible that a professional league somewhere might give him the opportunity. As a life coach I often offer free advice to potential clients in the hope that it will lead to a big permanent contract and, though I’ve never met Keyontae Johnson, I’m offering him the following advice completely free of charge: Take the money. Don’t run, please, but take that insurance money and use it as a head start on a successful career doing something that doesn’t involve strenuous physical activity. Call me, Keyontae. There’s more where that came from.

I offer this advice based on my experience with my own family. Though Chai Baker successfully gave me the slip for several months, he didn’t anticipate my doggedness or fully appreciate my readers’ insatiable appetite for the second part of this story. Not long ago I made the 2,000 mile trip and showed up on his doorstep in a move that would make Woodward and Bernstein proud. And I returned with the scoop, as all good life coaches do.

I can report that Chai is gainfully employed and living in Tallahassee with his girlfriend Vanessa these days. For the past several years he has been involved with the non-profit group Who We Play For (WWPF), to help ensure that other young athletes can be screened for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) before it’s too late. Their mission is to eliminate preventable sudden cardiac death in young athletes through affordable heart screenings so that other families, teams and communities will never have to experience the things that Chai has. Chai has supported that mission by sharing his story and raising awareness of the need for screenings and automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in his own and other panhandle communities.

Unfortunately, WWPF’s message hasn’t reached everyone, but shortly after Chai’s collapse the Oregon legislature passed ORS 339.345, requiring all school campuses in the state to have at least one AED on the premises as of 1/1/2015. But still, every three days a young athlete somewhere in the United States collapses and dies due to an undetected heart problem and sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death of student athletes. There is work to be done, and Chai is doing it, but he’s also looking for ways that he can have a more direct impact without some of the bureaucracy and politics that come with volunteering for someone else’s organization. Maybe someday there will be a part 3 of this story where I update this update but at this time he’s just exploring his options, which just may include working with his Uncle Ednold to get a program similar to WWPF started around here someday.

So, even though both the Beavers and Ducks had sub-par seasons this year, there’s still reason for some March gladness. After having had the mother lode of lemons dumped on him, Chai is learning how to make a tart, cool, refreshing drink out of that giant pile of yellow, turning his tragedy into something positive for the rest of the world. It’s not the type of success that any of us could have predicted for him several years ago, but that only makes his story more impressive.

I won’t say that Chai is always happy - who is? - but I can tell you that for the time I spent with him he seemed remarkably so. Although the adjustment to his new life is difficult at times, he didn’t let it show, and for not being able to do any strenuous activity it’s amazing how fit he still looks, which is frustrating for those of us who actually exercise, only for our butts to get wider with every passing day. What the hell? It’s still difficult for him to watch the sport that he can’t play anymore, but otherwise he appears to be making the adjustment to post-basketball life better than anyone had a right to expect.

And, of course, Chai is still, and will always be, a Beaver. He’s still in contact with the Beaver coaching staff and Assistant Coach Kerry Rupp keeps him in the latest Beaver gear with periodic care packages, and the whole family wears more black and orange than you would expect to find in that part of the country. Not long ago Chai received a surprise visit from former teammate Jarmal Reid, and even more recently he attended a Golden State Warriors game in Orlando where he reunited with another old teammate, Gary Payton II. I’m sure they talked about the old days on campus and Gary probably told him old stories he’d heard from his dad about the athletic prowess of his old classmate, Chai’s Uncle Ednold. I’m pretty sure that’s how that conversation went, but I'm just guessing.

I'll be waiting for that call, Keyontae.

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Mar 27, 2022

Yet another bit of Ednold wisdom.

And thanks for the update on Chai. That truly is a touch of March Gladness. We knew he could do more than shoot a basketball.

And about your medical prowess......why hadn't we heard of that before? Hopefully the word will get spread around. There are probably lots of us who need your help. But then, "I'm only guessing."

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