Little did Jacob May know his clock was ticking.
Entering the basketball season of his junior year he felt fine, no ill affects from the December 2009 knee surgery that had ended his freshman season at Aurora Central Catholic.
Now a freshly minted high school ACC graduate, May could realize when he felt a little off. Back in third grade there was a time he didn't feel quite right, worn down constantly. Seemed he had hydronephrosis, generally described as a restriction to urinary flow between the kidney and bladder. At 8 years old he had surgery to fix that.
So it was with some agitation that as a spry, 17-year-old junior May and younger brother, Mario, were taken by their mother, Jacquie, to a heart screening at Aurora Central an hour before a November basketball practice.
"Kicking and screaming," as Jacquie recalled it.
The fliers by Athletic Heart advertised electrocardiogram (EKG) tests administered for $20. They used a portable machine -- the MAC 1200, a mere 12 pounds with the full features of 65-pound units found at hospitals -- that make community-based testing events practical.
The MAC 1200, administered quickly in a school classroom, found an irregularity in Jacob's heart signals. Despite the threat of missing basketball practice, which angered Jacob no end, he then submitted to an echocardiograph.
Jacob's father, Rocky, came from home to be there when, in a bathroom off the school library, a doctor from the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation gave Jacob the ultrasound test.
Within a half-hour came the result: atrial septal defect which, in May's case, meant a hole in his heart between the left and right atrium. A hole 28 millimeters wide.
"He told me that I would need surgery to fix it," said May, surprised by the findings since nothing abnormal had been seen in preparation for or during his two prior surgeries. "He said it's something a lot of people had but they don't know about."
"Even our pediatrician was shocked," said Jacquie May, who then had children Mary Catherine and Charlie checked. Like Mario, they are clear.
Jacob underwent successful surgery at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on March 2, 2012. That night one of his pals, Joey McEachern, made the winning basket in Aurora Central Catholic's 51-50 regional final win over Yorkville. May's younger brother, Mario, called his brother with the exciting news. Classmates, who knew of Jacob's situation, had rushed the court and were chanting his name.
So exciting, this news, that Jacob's hospital monitor sounded and a doctor appeared to check his condition.
There was nothing wrong, and nothing since. Checkups and, a year after surgery, a full day wearing a monitor indicated smooth sailing. May had his best summer-league basketball season ever and felt stronger, more energetic and, also playing a part, more confident.
This season the 6-foot senior guard played in all 29 basketball games for a regional finalist. At the postseason banquet May said coach Nathan Drye told the crowd he doubted May would have any problem with "the real world" having endured what he has.
This spring May returned to baseball as well. He was the fourth outfielder for a 27-8 Chargers team.
"He's the epitome of what you want in a kid," said ACC baseball coach and athletic director Sean Bieterman. "He's had some tough things go his way in life but he's the most optimistic person I've ever known."
The journal Pediatrics states that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 2,000 people younger than 25 die annually from sudden cardiac arrest. Participating in athletics increases the risk.
"What (his doctor) told me at the time when I was diagnosed was, 'This isn't something that will hit you right now, it's going to hit you down the road and you don't know when,'" May said. "College was the general time they gave me, probably when I was 22 or 21 years old -- you'll just be walking up the stairs and there'll be a pain and a heart attack."
Kurt Gibson, associate executive director of the Illinois High School Association, works with that body's Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. In an email he wrote there's been talk about heart screening for prep athletes but it is not required as part of participatory exams -- though he would "encourage" it.
"In the end, it becomes more of a school or student-level decision to have an EKG," Gibson wrote.
Jacob May, who's having his graduation party Saturday and has been accepted into St. Louis University's physical therapy program, would also encourage it. He called himself "lucky" for that day his mother dragged him into school before basketball practice.
"I don't know if someone was watching over me," he said, "but I should know by now not to doubt what my mom tells me to do."
We emptied the email bag in last week's column, but a couple new submissions have come in.
A Batavia graduate we've followed since going to Augustana, junior Kim Sawyer repeated as the Vikings' women's tennis MVP. She went 26-4 at No. 1 singles, and became Augustana's first top singles champion at the College Conference of Illinois & Wisconsin tournament for the first time in 15 years. A three-time all-CCIW player, Sawyer already holds Augie's career singles wins record with 82 and has the first (29), second (27) and fourth (26) highest single-season victories total in school history. Her .820 winning percentage also is the school record. Counting her 138 total wins including doubles victories, Sawyer is 20 away from that school record.
An alert reader reminded us of Judson University's outstanding baseball team. The Eagles finished 46-17 and 25-4 in the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference, the first team to win both the regular season and tournament titles since the CCAC tourney began five years ago. Under repeat CCAC coach of the year Rich Benjamin, Judson enjoyed its furthest point in playoff history, a win away from the NAIA World Series and a final NAIA ranking of 22nd nationally. Among the stars was all-CCAC first baseman Tony Rallo (St. Charles East), a sophomore whose 475 putouts were eighth in the NAIA, and 60 runs batted-in were 11th. Rallo's high school teammate, shortstop Luke Rojas, hit .310 for the Eagles. The roster also included infielder Cody Love (West Aurora) and pitchers K.C. Wright (St. Charles North) and Michael Upton (St. Charles East). Our friendly reader noted that next year former St. Charles North catcher Matt Stevens will join the ballclub.
The boys of summer
Matt Brandys enjoyed his own seat on the bus delivering the Danville Dans to their June 3 baseball game against the Springfield Sliders, which is nice because as a freshman at Stetson University he had to share a seat.
This is the Prospect League, a wood-bat outfit of 11 teams in five states from Hannibal, Mo., to Butler, Pa., a horizontal swath perfect for college ballplayers and the big league scouts who follow them.
Those Dans outside the area -- such as Aurora Christian graduate Mitch Holz -- stay with host families. Brandys, a Geneva graduate, stays in Danville with a local insurance agent, his three children and another Danville player out of the Atlantic Sun Conference, Florida Gulf Coast's Tyler Selesky.
Brandys, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-handed pitcher, was looking forward to limbering up that arm. He was redshirted this season at Stetson. Head coach Pete Dunn and pitching coach Chris Roberts couldn't guarantee a large number of innings, so before the decision was made Brandys consulted his friend Matt Williams, the Geneva quarterback who redshirted his freshman year at Northern Illinois.
"He said, 'You know, it's not the most fun but you learn a lot,'" Brandys said. "I think it's best for me to grow not only physically but mentally. I feel confident going in that I'll actually be a stronger pitcher because of it."
By observation, the importance of the first-pitch strike was impressed upon him, he said.
"I really learned the importance of getting ahead in the count and learning how to set up hitters," Brandys said. "Not only just controlling an at-bat but controlling the whole game whether it be the running game, knowing the situation -- not only the game and inning but also focusing on each pitch, one pitch at a time."
Brandys, who excelled on and off the mound as a Geneva senior -- 4-0 with a 3.25 earned run average, a .451 batting average with the Vikings' record of 55 hits -- had an adventurous first start in eight months on Tuesday in Springfield. A feisty game Springfield won 5-1, it ended with the benches clearing.
Brandys took the loss, allowing 5 runs in 42⁄3 innings, but said he was "reasonably happy" with an outing that went better than the numbers sounded. He had movement on his two-seam fastball, Brandys' top pitch along with a slider.
His next start will be Saturday, a doubleheader against new nemesis Springfield.
"I'm just getting the kinks out and learning as I go," Brandys said.
Aren't we all. Have a great summer.