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His Mind Was Set On A Football Scholarship, But His Heart Won't Let Him Play Anymore

His mind was set on a football scholarship, but his heart won't let him play anymore

Shaelynn, 5, Brandon, 17, and Jackson Reed, 14, at their home in Saginaw. (Photo courtesy of Brandon Reed, Sr.)

When he switched positions, from quarterback to cornerback, Brandon Reed learned quickly to cope with no longer having the ball in his hands at all times.

But coping with no longer being able to play the game he loves will be a much bigger challenge.

Reed's heart won't let him play football anymore.

Members of the Reed family still have the remnants of that wide-eyed, stunned look on their faces when they talk about what happened on March 25. His mother Shalon was at work when Brandon's brother Jackson called her, trying to remain calm.

"I think you need to come home. It's Brandon."

Brandon Sr. was hard at work, performing CPR on their oldest son, while he and Jackson waited for the paramedics to arrive at their Saginaw home.

They knew something like this could happen, because it happened once before. Brandon Jr. passed out for about five minutes while getting some water after track practice at Nolan Catholic on March 5.

After a week in the hospital following that first episode, Brandon Jr. was diagnosed with Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia (ARVD). According to the Cleveland Clinic, ARVD is a heart condition affecting one in about every 5,000 people, and it makes the right ventricle contract poorly, resulting in an irregular heartbeat and a weakened ability to pump blood throughout the body.

He had been given a "life vest," which monitored his heartbeat and jolted it back on rhythm if it detected any arrhythmia, following that first scare. The only time he didn't have it on was in the shower.

He had just gotten out of the shower when his 14-year-old brother Jackson found him on the floor of his bedroom, unresponsive on March 25. He was in cardiac arrest. Sometimes, sudden cardiac death is the first and only sign a patient has ARVD.

"He died in my arms"

Shalon hurried home. Brandon Sr., in the middle of performing CPR, couldn't convey the full extent of what was going on over the phone.

"The first words out of his mouth when I got home were, 'He died in my arms,'" Shalon said.

But the paramedics were able to revive him, and Brandon Jr. had regained a faint pulse as she raced up the stairs to where they worked to save her son. Early the morning of March 26, Brandon was admitted to Cook Children's Medical Center.

"The doctor came in after he looked at Brandon and immediately told us he didn't think he was going to make it through the night," Brandon Sr. said.

"He sat there with us and prepared us for the worst, like we should be planning Brandon's funeral," Shalon said.

Even if Brandon Jr. woke up, doctors told the family, he would likely have brain damage. Going as long as he did without oxygen to his brain could have left him with diminished motor skills or even in a vegetative state.

Shalon could not accept that as a possible reality. Then she remembered something Brandon Jr. said the first time he collapsed, when he was in and out of consciousness on Nolan High School's football field.

"The doctors have their science," he said. "But I've got God."

"The biggest blessing"

After Brandon Sr. texted his son's football coach Dave Beaudin, explaining that the family was back in the hospital facing another, more serious heart episode than the one before, Nolan Catholic faithful started flooding the Cook's Children ICU waiting area.

Hugs. Prayers. Parents. Teachers. And a whole lot of tears.

One-by-one, his teammates on the football team passed by his bed and told him they loved him.

"It was moving to see that from a bunch of teenage boys," Beaudin said. "When we as coaches tell the team that our strength comes from the love and dedication we have for one another, this was like the perfect embodiment of that, in a very real-life moment."

Just 24 hours after he was being prepped for life support, Brandon Jr. could squeeze his mom's hand when she held it and spoke to him.

On Thursday, April 1, he woke up.

He was in the hospital for nearly three weeks, but avoided any permanent brain damage. He had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) connected to his heart's right ventricle on April 13. He went home two days later.

"Just being here is the biggest blessing," Brandon Jr. said. "The support through all this was amazing. It's all been scary and heartbreaking to think about and talk about with my family, but right now it's all about finding out what God's plan is for me."

The American Heart Association has released studies that show that athletes with ICDs can safely play some competitive sports. Baylor junior and Dallas product King McClure, who plays guard on the Bears basketball team, has one.

Moving forward

But football is not one of those "safe" competitive sports.

So the bad news is that Brandon Jr. can never play football again. After intercepting four passes for the Vikings during his junior season, returning one for a touchdown against Joshua, his dreams of a college scholarship to play football are on the shelf, with his helmet.

Beaudin said before the condition reared its head, he thought Reed could go one of two ways: maybe he'd end up at a smaller FBS-level program, or maybe he'd be a very good NCAA Division II player. Either way, he thought Brandon Jr. would be getting a free college education.

"But this doesn't mean I'm not going to put him to work next season," Beaudin said. "He's not going to get off that easy. His role with the team next year will be for him to decide, but I'd love to have him in the coaches' room, get him breaking down film, hyping up his teammates and on the sidelines with us. It's where he belongs."

Besides, the good news for the Reed family far outweighs the medical bills and the abrupt end to football for Brandon Jr. Since a family history of ARVD is present in 30-50 percent of total cases, everyone in the Reed family was tested for the same condition after his diagnosis.

The results? Going through all he went through may have saved his little sister Shaelynn's life. She's just five years old.

Shaelynn has the same condition and will likely need a defibrillator later in her life. But now, with the warning that Brandon Jr. gave his family, they can decide when Shaelynn gets hers implanted, rather than being caught cruelly and unaware by sudden cardiac arrest.

In a way, less than a month after Jackson saved Brandon Jr.'s life with his quick actions when he saw his older brother unconscious on the ground, Brandon Jr. returned the favor to the family, possibly saving his sister's life through his crucible.

"That means the most," Brandon Jr. said. "[Shaelynn] hopefully won't have to go through all this."

As parents, the Reeds hope other athletic families will take something away from the most trying month in their family history.

"This is a condition that goes undetected in every physical kids take for athletics at school. Insurance won't pay for testing unless there is some kind of medical need for it," Shalon said. "Parents really might want to go an extra step and get some genetic testing done before they put their kids into athletics, just to make sure they don't have a heart condition."

Story Credit: www.star-telegram.com/sports/dfwvarsity/prep-football/article209911279.html