Overlea, a year later: two lives altered and forever linked

On High Schools

High Schools

October 02, 2005|By MILTON KENT

At the end of the last field hockey season, Overlea coach Jenna Zava received a gift from the mother of one of her players to thank her for taking care of her daughter.

The gift was a statue of an angel holding a small child, and it occupies a special place in Zava's home, though, in her mind, she requires little if anything external to remember Megan Finn, the girl whose life she saved just over a year ago.

"Her mom told me, `This is for you, because you are like our angel' " Zava said the other day. "That's a constant reminder, but I don't think I need a materialistic thing or a trinket to remember her. I don't think I will ever forget it."

It was a year ago last Saturday, when Finn, then a 16-year-old junior in her first year on the team, collapsed on the field running laps before a morning practice.

While team members called for help, Zava performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the stricken girl, keeping her alive just long enough for paramedics to arrive and take her to Franklin Square Hospital and eventually to the University of Maryland Medical Center downtown.

Finn was found to have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a rare ailment in which the heart muscle becomes too thick to function properly. What Finn suffered that morning may not technically have been a heart attack, but it was as close as anyone around her would want to get to the real thing.

By mid-October, Finn returned home, and by December, she was back in school, but not before her life and the lives of those around her had been fundamentally changed.

For one thing, Finn's nascent athletic career was over. She is with the team this year, but as a manager, the same role she performed as a sophomore.

It is, she said, tough to be so close to field hockey and not be an active part of the team. It was really difficult that first day when she reported for manager's duties and had to walk onto the field where she nearly died, but not so difficult that she could completely stay away.

"It was like, `Wow. This is really weird,' " Finn said before Thursday's game against Kenwood. "But I enjoy it. I'm glad to be here to support them. Every time I see them, I think, `God, I want to be out there.' But I can't do it. It's OK. I've just accepted that I can't really do anything anymore, but I can do other things like be manager and still be part of it. So that's good."

For the most part, Finn said, her life has returned to normal, or as normal as a life of a teenager who has a pacemaker in her chest can be.

She is back to a regular high school schedule, which includes work-study at a Towson florist, and while she tires occasionally, particularly going up and down stairs, things are pretty cool. She is taking two medications daily and only has to see her cardiologist every six months, rather than monthly.

Better yet, Finn said, talk that she would need a heart transplant has subsided, and she expects good news from her next doctor's appointment later this month.

Her parents, Joe and Joan Finn, are understandably anxious about their daughter, the youngest of three children, and were a little concerned about her emotional state in the days before the anniversary of the incident. Her mom gave her a MedicAlert necklace that describes her condition in case she needs medical attention.

But she got to ride around the Beltway with her dad on his motorcycle on the anniversary date, so it would appear that the pixie-like Megan has been able to allay some of their fears.

"I guess they [her parents] are nervous, but they are there for me. They care about me. They make sure that I call in so many times and check in. If not, they freak out," said Finn, laughing.

Meanwhile, Zava, who taught Finn English last year and again this year, said the event changed her profoundly. She said people asked her if she was afraid to coach the team with the memory of the incident. And she wondered, too, what she would do if something similar happened and how her players would react.

"I realized when I got to the field that I already made it through last season, but this season I wasn't going to think about it," said Zava, 24.

"And when I do think about Megan, it's never something negative. It's never something like, `She was blue on the field and she almost died.' It's like, `She's here and it's amazing that she's alive and it's made my life different and it's made the lives of the kids on the team different, too.' "

Indeed, there's something magical, borderline mystical, going on with the previously moribund Overlea team, which, in recent seasons, had struggled to compete, with only three wins in the past two seasons.

This year's squad won its first five games, holding the opposition scoreless in each contest, setting the stage for what could be the first winning season the Falcons have had in about 15 years.

The bubble burst Thursday as they lost in overtime to Kenwood, a team they had beaten earlier, 6-0, but it may not be such a bad thing, Zava said.

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