Heart problem ends Williams' career Notre Dame player prepped in Oxon Hill

September 29, 1990

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Monty Williams, a Notre Dame basketball player who became a starter his freshman year, appears to have a heart condition that could kill him during extreme exertion and has ended his career, the university said yesterday.

Dr. Stephen Simons, a university doctor, said tests indicate that Williams, 18, of Forest Heights, Md., probably has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

"With that diagnosis, there is an undue and unacceptable risk of sudden death," the doctor said.

The disease is an abnormal thickening of the muscle wall between the heart's two pumping chambers. The condition could obstruct the flow of blood from the left ventricle to the body or, more dangerously, disrupt the electrical impulses that drive the heart, Simons said.

Williams, who attended Potomac High School in Oxon Hill, said he was grateful that the disease was diagnosed, despite the fact it ends his promising career. "I was very lucky to get a second chance," he said. "I wasn't on the court and died like Hank Gathers did."

Williams' disease is different from the sudden abnormal heart rhythm that killed Gathers, a Loyola Marymount player who collapsed on the court March 4 during a home game against Portland, Simons said.

Coach Digger Phelps said he conferred with the medical specialists, then told Williams that his career was over. "I'm not going to have his mother sit and watch the television and watch him quiver on the floor and about 30 seconds later die," Phelps said.

The diagnosis grew from an "extra heart sound" noticed Sept. 4 during a preseason physical examination. "Sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not," Simons said. "It just happened to be there that night."

Williams did not show other symptoms of the disease, including irregular heart rhythm, the doctor said. But the irregular, thickened muscle met the minimal criteria for diagnosis, he said.

Williams had shown no signs of disease during earlier testing, Simons said. He complained of chest pains during a December 1989 practice, but the symptoms were relieved by an antacid. An examination and tests showed nothing wrong, he said.

The 6-foot-7 forward started 18 games last season, and played in all 29, averaging 7.7 points and 3.7 rebounds.

Williams said he would continue studying communications at Notre Dame, and attend practices and games. Simons said his condition will be monitored closely.

"I have a lot ahead of me," Williams said. "I can't be sitting here and bickering about something that's taken basketball away from me. The average life span of a basketball player is four years in college and maybe two, three years in the pros, if you make it in the pros.

"I can't sit around here and complain about something I can't control."

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