Un-Broken by Her Heart

Many things just come naturally to most athletes while on the court or the field. The line drive hit into left field, the powerful shot into the goal, the gallant leap for the rebound-all things that, after hours of practice, become effortless. They have spent their time molding their bodies into exactly what they want them to be. They are constantly exhibiting strength, stamina, and endurance.

But what happens when an athlete loses control of a vital part of their game? For women’s basketball player Quynh Nguyen, it was her breath.

Ever since high school, Nguyen experienced problems breathing while running up and down the court. Her heart would begin to race, she would lose feeling in her limbs, and quickly become lightheaded.

Nguyen immediately had it checked out by a doctor, but after wearing a heart monitor for some time they didn’t find anything wrong. In a few days Nguyen was back on the court to finish out her high school season.

After signing to play at the University of Tampa, Nguyen attended a preseason camp. However, after another heart episode she was forced to sit out and rest.

“I just sat out and rested every time it happened,” Nguyen said. “It happened every now and then, probably triggered by stress and nerves.”

However, in November of her freshman year, Nguyen began having attacks more frequently, about three or four times a month. And eventually, sitting out would not help her condition.

“The last time it happened I couldn’t get my heart [rate] to go down,” Nguyen said. “I was sitting down trying to catch my breath and you could see my heart beating rapidly through my shirt.”

Nguyen and the coaching staff decided this couldn’t go on anymore. She immediately returned to the doctor to be reexamined.

This time, the doctors concluded Nguyen suffered from Atrioventricular Tachycardia and would have to have surgery to fix it.

“Tachycardia is a disorder in which the heart starts to beat too fast and therefore cannot pump blood efficiently,” USF cardiac surgeon Bill Marshall said. “It can be fixed by eliminating the area in the heart that causes the irregular heart rhythm with either electricity, ultrasound, or freezing.”

Nguyen decided to redshirt for her freshman year and returned to her home in Virginia to undergo surgery to repair her right atrium.

“I felt bad when I found out she had to get surgery because I knew it was serious,” teammate Brittany Ridley said.

After surgery, Nguyen quickly bounced back, getting back on the court in April for postseason play.

“It was a pretty quick recovery,” Nguyen said. “After the surgery my heart still fluttered for a few weeks, but eventually it went away. I haven’t had problems with my heart since.”

Nguyen, who had been off the court for so long, learned she had a lot of work to do to get back into top shape.

“I definitely got out of shape because I wasn’t play for so long. I took it slow when I first came back and then really trained hard over the summer to be ready for preseason.”

Nguyen not only stepped back on the court with a new heart, but also with the support of her teammates and coaches.

“I was surprised to see her come back still wanting to practice and make up for lost time,” Ridley said. “I respect her dedication and admire her willingness to get back in the game after all that happened. It showed that even though she was faced with such a tough obstacle she still had the strength to come back stronger than before.”

This season, Nguyen joined the team as a redshirt freshman. Not only did she enjoy a successful season, but also got a chance to play with a healthy heart for the first time. With her newfound health, she hopes to continue becoming a better player to help lead the team to many victories to come.

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