Gates' healthy comeback

High schools: Carver senior Shawn Gates had to put wrestling on hold for heart bypass surgery.

February 19, 2005|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Almost every practice of the Carver wrestling team ends with its members running laps. Senior captain Shawn Gates always makes sure to finish first.

It could be considered a captain's responsibility, setting an example for everyone else.

For Gates, 17, it's much more.

About this time last year - Feb. 15 to be exact - he was at Johns Hopkins Children's Center undergoing heart bypass surgery as the result of a congenital condition.

Today, the lanky, 152-pound athlete with the inspirational heart will take a 15-7 record into the Baltimore City tournament, with his sights on a crown.

Gates, though, has already won.

"He's done wonderfully, and it's a great testament to Shawn that he's out there, back doing his activities," said Dr. William Ravekes, Gates' pediatric cardiologist at Hopkins.

In the spring of 2003, Gates was fresh off a sophomore season in which he was named the team's Most Improved Wrestler. He was looking forward to the lacrosse season.

But one day, running on the school's track during practice, he said his vision became blurry, he was dizzy and also felt "something squeezing my lungs," he said.

"My mother took me to the doctor, and at first they thought it was a heart murmur," said Gates, who was told to rest for two to three weeks.

It wasn't until January 2004, after he began wrestling again in his junior season and experienced more chest pains, that Gates went to Johns Hopkins Children's Center, where his disorder was diagnosed as an aberrant right coronary artery.

There are two main arteries that deliver blood to the heart muscle, one on the right and one on the left. The two are usually nearly opposite each other, but in Gates' case, his right artery was much farther to the left than is normal.

"And then, after it came off, the aorta had to take a very sharp turn to then turn back over to go to the right side of his heart," Ravekes said. "That sharp turn is a very narrow area, and that's why he wasn't getting enough blood flow down the coronary."

The bypass surgery in February, performed by Dr. Luca Vricella, corrected the disorder. Ravekes said the postoperative period went extremely well for Gates, who spent a week in the hospital, followed by a month of bed rest. Follow-up visits also have been positive.

"The reason we do this is so Shawn can do the things he wants to do," said Ravekes. "We're not going to do the surgery and tell him, `OK, but you can't get back to your sports and what you enjoy doing in life.'"

After the surgery, Gates' first question was, "When can I wrestle again?"

His answer came last August from Ravekes, who cleared him to resume physical activity.

"I was so happy," said Gates. "The first person I called was Coach [Kama Owens] to tell him I could wrestle again and then I just started getting ready for the season. It's my senior year, so it was important to me and for the team. I just wanted to get back and do my part."

For Owens, the first word of that conversation told him all he needed to know.

"He starts with `Coach' and I'm thinking, `Yeah, he's all right.' He was just relieved and said he was going to be able to wrestle but things were going to take a while," he said.

Gates, a B-average student who plans to take on a trade, perhaps carpentry, after graduating, began wrestling his freshman year, enjoying the banter with teammates and making productive use of his time after school.

Since that time, much of Gates' talk is about wrestling. Just ask fellow senior captain Devon Williams, who also picked up the sport as a freshman.

"I'd go see him in the hospital and all he'd want to talk about was wrestling, wrestling, wrestling," said Williams. "I'm like, `Can't we talk about something else, like: How are you doing? You feeling good?' And then in August, he called me up and said, `I'm clear - I'm coming back to wrestle."'

This season, Gates has been brought along slowly, with a goal toward peaking for the city tournament, followed by the region tournament and, he hopes, the state tournament. Gates, who has seven pins this season, says he still hurts some, but he has been pushing forward.

Along the way, the strong-willed senior has brought plenty of inspiration.

"It makes me feel good and the rest of the team - it makes us all want to come to practice every day and work hard," said Williams. "He's showing all of us that we all need to come and do our thing because of what he's going through - with the heart surgery - is a lot worse than anything we may be going through. It's really an inspiration."

He also has made his mother, Amanda, proud.

"When he first started wrestling, I was like, `Oh my God, why is he wrestling? But he's really good," she said. "He recovered so quickly and so well, if he didn't have that scar on his chest, you wouldn't even know he had heart surgery."

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