Heart disorder has Overlea field hockey player fighting for her life

On High Schools

High Schools

October 01, 2004|By MILTON KENT

JOAN FINN had just returned to her Rosedale home after dropping off her daughter, Megan, at field hockey practice at Overlea High on Saturday morning. She probably hadn't had enough time to hang up the car keys and get a cup of coffee when the phone rang.

On the other end of the line was one of Megan's teammates, telling Joan and her husband, Joe, to come back to the school. Now. Megan was in trouble.

The first thought the Finns had was that Megan had passed out. Teenagers always overstate things, they figured.

But something made Joan drive a little faster, go through a traffic light or two to get to her baby, the youngest of three kids and her only girl.

When they got to Overlea and Joe Finn saw 16-year-old Megan on the ground flat and motionless, he knew something was terribly, terribly wrong.

"When I ran down to that field, and I saw her laying there like that, I knew that she was dead," said Joe Finn, 45. "I could just tell. I just laid on the ground next to her and held her hand to tell her we were there. But she was lifeless. I tell you, Saturday ... I hope I don't live long enough to go through a day like that again."

The long day was just beginning for Joe and Joan Finn. As they and Megan's teammates and coaches watched, paramedics were putting paddles on to her chest to shock her heart, which had gone into arrest.

Once the paramedics got a pulse, Megan was transported to Franklin Square Hospital Center and later to University of Maryland Medical Center, where she has been in the pediatric intensive care unit, attached to a ventilator.

She is now in critical condition.

Megan's condition was diagnosed as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, where the heart muscle becomes too thick to function properly. According to Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, the abnormal growth begins to show up in many cases during adolescence.

The disorder is present in about two to five of every 1,000 people, and is usually inherited. Megan had the necessary physical examination before playing field hockey, but this condition would not show up in a routine physical, and would usually be detected with an echocardiogram, an advanced heart test.

Oddly enough, Megan, who was a field hockey manager for two years, had to be talked into trying out and joining the team by her teammates. Megan and her friend, Candice Moore, the goalie who initially discovered Megan in distress last Saturday, ran each day, sometimes as early as 5 a.m. in the summer.

Even then, Joan Finn said, Megan didn't feel that she ran fast enough to make the team.

"She was like, `Mom, I don't know. I'm not a fast runner,'" said Joan Finn, 44, herself a four-year breast cancer survivor.

"She was trying to condition herself up for that. I know that she was pushing herself. She said, `The girls asked me, and I really want to try and make this team.' I told her, `Well, Meg, we all have a limit and if you don't make it because of that, well, you tried. It will be OK.'"

Technically, Overlea wasn't supposed to be practicing Saturday, but because of a communications mix-up, they were there, doing a warm-up run.

In hindsight, it's a good thing they were practicing, because if they hadn't, there's a chance Megan Finn wouldn't be alive. That she is still fighting is in large part because of her coach, Jenna Zava.

Zava, a petite woman, who, at 23, could easily pass for one of her players, was standing on one end of the field watching the team run its laps, when Candice noticed that Megan had bent over at the waist.

Candice asked her friend if she was OK, and when Zava heard the question, she turned to look, only to find Megan slumped on the ground. The other girls, unaware of what was happening, kept running.

Meanwhile, Zava, in her second season at Overlea, ran over and yelled to Megan. The stricken girl sat up for a second, just long enough to make eye contact.

"She knew that I knew what was going on," said Zava, a New York native and Towson graduate. "She waited for me to come over. Once she saw me, she finally went down because maybe she felt comfortable that I knew what the situation was."

Zava said she saw Megan's body convulse, then stop moving. She asked the girl if she was OK, then screamed at the girls to get a cell phone to call 911. The girls didn't immediately understand what their coach was saying, so Zava ran to the area where they all kept their gear to get a phone.

Candice yelled that Megan had started to turn blue, and went to move her. Zava told her to leave Megan in place, then felt for a pulse that wasn't there. That was the only moment, Zava said, that she lost her cool, but the 911 operator calmed her down, reminding her that she was the only adult present and that the kids would take their cues from her.

Zava said she put her mouth next to Megan's to see if the girl was breathing. The coach said Megan was emitting an "odd-sounding breath of air," for about a minute or so, but nothing was going in.

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