“He came out and told me ‘there’s no way that kid’s heart is bad,’ ” Latoya Lee said. “What he thought was that Jordan had what he called ‘athletic heart’ – that his heart was too big in spots and that a valve might be leaking.”
Crapanzano’s hunch was correct. Further tests revealed that Lee was dealing with a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
According to The American Heart Association (heart.org), “Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy occurs if heart muscle cells enlarge and cause the walls of the ventricles (usually the left ventricle) to thicken. The ventricle size often remains normal, but the thickening may block blood flow out of the ventricle. If this happens, the condition is called obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Sometimes the septum, the wall that divides the left and right sides of the heart, thickens and bulges into the left ventricle. This can block blood flow out of the left ventricle. Then the ventricle must work hard to pump blood. Symptoms can include chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting.”
As relieving as it was to hear that Lee wasn’t in the throes of a serious cardiac episode, things didn’t get better – at least not right away.
He left the hospital with a heart monitor and had to find ways to remain calm and stress free with no physical activity.
A little over a week later, Lee’s mother began a process of taking him to three specialists to determine what the best approach was. Two doctors said the flair up was just that and he was fine to return to athletics.
One of the doctor’s opinions was devastating: A recommendation that Lee stop playing football.
“It shocked me because I had played football and basketball my whole life,” Lee said. “I had to stop and think about what I was going to do without them.”
The doctor’s assessment matches another part of the AHA’s description of the condition: “It is rare, but some people with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can have sudden cardiac arrest during very vigorous physical activity. The physical activity can trigger dangerous arrhythmias.”
Coming to grips with having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is far from receiving a death sentence. Millions of people live with the condition with medication, regular monitoring and adjustments in lifestyle and diet.
Lee digested the initial wave of information believing that football might indeed be over for him.
“I’m so young and I’ve got a lot of life to live, so I had to think about what was happening to me,” he said. “I can process it because I know football is not going to be there forever. It’s important to me to get an education and see what happens after that.”
Having a future.
That became a little more important to Lee than most teenagers might bother to consider. Still, the thought of football being yanked away was hard to come to grips with and those around Lee could tell.
“We talked about it a bunch and it upset him,” said Smith, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. “I told him it was just a small picture in a big world. At the end of the day, it’s just a game. I told him we’d love for you to be out there, but it’s not worth being a detriment to your health.”
Added Live Oak senior Ray’Shion Brumfield, one of Lee’s two cousins on the team, “He’s like my brother, so it would hurt me to not have him on the field with me. I just wanted one last chance to play with him our senior year.”
That chance came to fruition.
Lee sat down and talked with his mom about the three doctors’ recommendations. Together they decided that Lee would return to football, a decision that wasn’t easy for mom.
“I couldn’t take his life from him and to him, his life was on that football field,” Latoya Lee said. “He had faith that he was OK and two of the doctors had faith that he would be OK. In the back of my mind, I was scared to death, but I got my comfort and faith from Jordan.”
Once the decision was made, Jordan Lee – already a spiritual person – rededicated himself to the church.
He was a regular at church every Wednesday and Sunday before the diagnosis, but there has been a little more focus and meaning to those sessions ever since.
“I’ve never stopped going to church – never missed a day,” Lee said. “God has given me an opportunity, so I’m not going to take it for granted. This has made me closer to God than I’ve ever been before. I say a long prayer and thank God for giving me this opportunity every morning, every night and before every time I step onto the field.”
Before Lee could go back to work, the high school and the parish school district had to get all the required paperwork in order for Lee to return to the field.
Just as importantly, Beard, Smith and the other coaches had to get to a point where they felt comfortable with Lee going back on the field.
Like most high school coaches, the Live Oak mentors become surrogate fathers to their players, so the concern was much more about Lee’s wellbeing and future than what he could offer as a player.
“Whatever was going on was going on for a reason and that’s what I tried to impress upon him,” Beard said. “Football is a great game and we love it but it’s not worth anybody’s life. Not even close. We made sure the trainers know exactly what happened and how to monitor him. We trust him, we trust the family and we trust the doctors, so we felt like we had to give the kid a chance to be back out there.”
Given a football reprieve, Lee worked hard in the offseason and is in the best physical condition of his life. He and his mom adjusted his diet and he pays more attention to the signals when the condition flairs up.
When Lee’s heart starts to race, he knows to take deep breaths to calm his body down. If there is any reason to feel like he is wandering into dangerous territory, he said he isn’t going to try to be a hero.
Likewise, Beard and Smith keep an eye on Lee’s body language and other signals.
“High school athletics have gotten a lot better at monitoring these kids and catching these things where they’re easier to fix, and that creates a comfort level as a coach,” Beard said. “We know what we’re dealing with and I always try to look all my guys in the eye when they come off the field. If I see anything with him, I make sure our training staff checks him out.”
Dealing with the condition has also changed Lee’s perspective.
While most high school athletes operate under the belief that they are invincible, Lee knows differently. Staring at a murky future will do that, even when the view clears up and the horizon proves to have plenty of promise after all.
“What I’ve learned is that you’ve got to live every day to the fullest because you never know when your bell will ring for you to go up there,” Lee said, motioning upward.
“I could walk on that field today or tomorrow during a practice or a game, and as scary as it is to think about, I could lose everything in the blink of an eye. It’s scary to think about things that way, but you have to keep living.
“I’ve prayed to God to let me play the game I love and not let anything happen to me and He has taken care of me. When it’s time for me to go, I’ll be fine because of everything He has allowed me to do.”
Randy Rosetta is Sports Editor of The Livingston Parish News.
You can reach him at (225) 610.5507 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta | @LPN_Sports | @LPNews1898
Original Story: https://www.livingstonparishnews.com/sports/football-strong-faith-helps-eagles-jordan-lee-handle-a-dance/article_793ed4cc-cbe2-11e7-a184-2b835ba24b64.html