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|Vidalia's McGraw overcomes heart ailment|
Vidalia High head boys basketball coach Robert Sanders and assistant coach Damus Smith can not name the exact days and times in January and February of 2007 when time seemed to stand still, but it was certainly two days they will never forget.
It was actually January 15, 2007 when then Vidalia sophomore Jacob McGraw was running his ninth lap around the gym with his teammates before practice when he stopped and leaned against the wall.
"He was leaning against the wall and then fell to the floor and went into a fetal position," Sanders said.
"I felt dizzy," McGraw said. "And the next thing I remember is laying on the floor. I don't know how I got on the floor."
Vidalia High assistant football and volunteer baseball coach Chuck DeWeese, a paramedic for the Vidalia Fire Department, happened to be in the gym getting ready for baseball practice when McGraw collapsed.
"They told me Jacob had passed out and I went around there and saw him laying against the wall with his chin down on his chest," DeWeese said. "When I got there he was gasping for air. He was semi-conscious, so I rubbed his sternum to get him fully awake so I could see what was going on. I tilted his head back to maintain his airway and he started breathing regular."
An ambulance was called and McGraw stayed two days at Natchez Regional.
"They ran tests and then sent us to a specialist," said Jacob's mother, Ruby McGraw. "The specialist told us everything was all right."
McGraw was cleared three weeks later to return to practice.
"I had to make sure he had a doctor's clearance before he could come back," Sanders said. "He was playing basketball during P.E. at that time and was doing fine."
Just before Vidalia's playoff game in mid-February at Lakeside High, McGraw was once again running laps when he leaned over on the bleachers and went to sit down.
"I remember sitting down before I passed out, but don't remember much after that," McGraw said.
"I walked over to him and asked him if he stumbled or if he was having trouble," Sanders said. "He didn't say anything. I knew to rub the middle of his sternum and we called the EMTs."
"I freaked out the first time it happened," said Smith, who rode with McGraw to the hospital. "Anytime you hear about a kid going down it's never good. It was like everything was shutting down. And he had that sad look in his eyes. I really thought we were losing him. The second time I was in a classroom doing a scouting report when I heard the kids coming yelling toward me, 'Coach Smith, Coach Smith.' I was thinking, 'Oh, Lord.' I knew then it happened again. Coach Sanders had him on the floor when I got there."
McGraw underwent testing at a Jackson hospital where it was discovered the artery of his heart was on the wrong side.
McGraw underwent surgery in New Orleans on September 16, 2007, one day before his birthday, where the artery was moved to the right side of his heart.
"I walked out of the ICU after three days," McGraw said. "They said that was a good sign. That was a big part of my recovery. They said I recovered quicker than most people can."
McGraw sat out his junior year and returned to play for his senior season this year.
"I had never had a heart problem," McGraw said. "I was really scared at first. I was terrified. But now I feel like I never had a heart problem. I'm not scared anymore, I'm happy to be playing."
"He had to have full clearance to play and his mother had to approve," Sanders said of McGraw's return to the team. "We allow him to rest a lot, especially running laps."
"I was just as surprised as everyone else when it first happened," said Ruby McGraw, who was sweetheart queen for the Vidalia High basketball team in 1979. "The doctor said it was something he was born with. He kept asking that doctor over and over if he could play basketball again. I couldn't stop him. I was worried watching the first game, but I haven't worried any more since then."
Sanders admitted it was tough allowing McGraw back on the team.
"Even in my classroom I will catch him staring off, which is a sign of his heart problem and I will ask him if he is OK," Sanders said. "We keep a constant watch on him. It was a tough decision and took a lot of prayer. But basketball means so much to him it may have been worst on him not to let him play."
McGraw said the year of just watching may have helped him in the long run.
"I learned a lot by watching," he said.
McGraw is averaging six points a game and 16 minutes of playing time each contest.
Sanders said McGraw's game has improved.
"I think basketball actually inspired in his recovery," Sanders said. "It's kind of hard to believe no one caught that before now."
McGraw plans on attending Southern Mississippi and majoring in accounting.
"I've learned a lot from this experience and I appreciate every day even more," he said.
And he is glad for now to be on the basketball court.
"I think about it every now and then and how close I was to not being here," he said. "I know I have been blessed."
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