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Heart surgery allows athlete to play again

For Tea Area junior Tommy Fritz, an out-of-breath basketball game last year sent him to the emergency room.

His health concerns did not start there, however. Fritz always had yearly physicals his doctor and the last one before he started his sophomore Fritz told him that he been hyperventilating during football practice. With his family history – his grandfather has had heart surgery – his doctor suggested further testing.

“I got an echo done at Sanford. It looked like my right coronary artery was coming off a little bit but not too much,” Fritz said.

Despite that information, Fritz played his whole sophomore football season without a problem. He started the basketball season getting really tired at practices. He played in their first game on a Friday, slept the whole weekend, then played in a game the following Monday or Tuesday. That’s when the trip to the ER happened.

After his ER trip, he returned to his regular doctor, who did a lot of testing. His doctor convinced a cardiologist to do a CT scan. His cardiologist was sure nothing was wrong. The CT scan proved him wrong and he called the Fritzes to say he needed heart surgery.

That diagnosis meant basketball seasons was over for the year. He found out he needed surgery in December, but had to wait two months to have it.

Since they do not do pediatric heart surgery in Sioux Falls, they traveled to Ann Arbor, Mich., and Boston, Mass., for other opinions. They liked the surgeon in Michigan best so had the surgery done there in February 2015.

They flew to Ann Arbor the Thursday before the Super Bowl, had his pre-op on Friday and the surgery on Monday. He stayed in the hospital for seven days and was out of school for three months doing cardiac rehab in Sioux Falls. He has six titanium wires holding his sternum together.

“School worked with me good. I was out of school for probably three months, when I went back I had to work my tail off to get my classes caught up,” Fritz said.

This past summer he played summer basketball and felt good then. However, he had his appendix removed in June and his tonsils out in November.

He played football this fall and is playing baseball now. Fritz says he feels a lot better today and lucky that he experienced symptoms.

“I’m lucky that I had symptoms because my surgeon did the same surgery on a different girl and she was running on the track and she had to be resuscitated,” Fritz said.

Fritz’s mom, Stephanie, is relieved that her son is doing well now. She said when he was a middle-schooler, he would get winded faster and more than the other kids when playing sports. They thought he had sports-induced asthma.

“He had an inhaler, but it never really helped. It never got major enough to push it any farther,” she said.

She says it never really dawned on her that it could be heart trouble. She said that they do have some family history of heart issues and had their older son screened. With Tommy, their doctors did not think he needed to be tested but said they could do the screening.

“We didn’t do it. A couple years later, luckily he had symptoms,” she said. “The school was really good and the doctors were really good. It turns your world upside down.”

Today, Stephanie and Tommy urge parents to have their children screened either through the school program, Screening America, or by their family doctor.

“I encourage the heart screenings. It’s not worth it (not to do it),” Tommy said.

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