The Heart of the Matter

By KRISTA REDPATH PYRON

There are some stories that are worth telling. There are those “ahhh” moments where you hear a saying, reconnect with a friend, or just recall a memory that makes you stop and reflect. They can be feel-good moments, or they can be those moments that give you a lump in your throat and butterflies in your stomach. But you still stop for a moment, as brief as it may be, and think.

Since starting my blogging life just two short weeks ago, I have been having lots of these moments as I think about all the things and people I want to write about. It is like my inner creative self has been cooped up, and it’s ready to burst with Oprah-like stories about our Lady Griz program!

It’s not as if I don’t have enough on my plate, and I often wonder why I take on all that I do, much like we all do, but you just find a way. No need going into the whole “I have so much going on blah blah blah…”  We’ve all heard it before and don’t want to tune into another sob story of an overworked mother of two, with kids that don’t sleep (did I also mention they are the world’s pickiest eaters!).

So I’ll just get on with it. The truth is I feel like these stories NEED to be told. There is so much to our basketball program that has nothing – and everything – to do with championships and statistics.

Two years ago, I had one of those moments that I remember time and again. First, a little background:  When you play basketball at the level I did for five years and for such a close-knit program, the relationships that you develop with your teammates are incredibly strong. I went to battle with these girls every day. They knew me at my best as well as my worst.

There are differences and personality conflicts at times, but at the end of the day, my teammates were and will always be my close friends. They had my back and I had theirs. Time gets in the way as you get older.  You get busy with careers, family, and kids. I may go months or even years without talking to many former teammates. But when we are fortunate enough to run into each other by accident or at the annual Holiday tournament by choice, we have an instant reconnection.

This is just what happened a little over two years ago at the Holiday Classic tournament here in Missoula.

My friend and former teammate Allison (Turner) Gardner and her family were in Missoula over the holidays and made time to attend the tournament. Allison, her husband Trent, Megan Harrington, and I went out for beers after the game at the Press Box. We reminisced about some of our inside jokes and memories, enjoying a cold beer or two.

And then Allison proceeded to tell me bits and pieces of her battle with a heart condition called bradycardia. It ultimately landed her in the intensive care unit and with a pacemaker into her heart at the age of 31, only 9 short years after finishing her basketball career for the Lady Griz. It turned out to be a congenital heart defect that she had been born with. Her father’s side of the family carries the gene and her dad was diagnosed with an electrical malfunction of the heart called tachycardia, which causes an increase in heart rate.

Allison’s condition, however, caused a sudden decrease in heart rate. During the time she played for the Lady Griz – from 1994 to 1999 – there were early dizzy spells that often made her wonder if her blood sugar was low when she wasn’t feeling well. Turns out now, this was only the beginning of her discovery.

Always extremely active and in impressive shape, Allison had just finished an 85-mile bike ride over the weekend in April of 2007. The next day she was back at it, teaching her middle school students when she realized she wasn’t feeling well.

A short while later, during a lunch break at her desk, she passed out and two of her students who stopped in her room tried to shake her awake. By a crazy coincidence, Smokey the Bear was in the next classroom, and this costumed bear turned out to be an EMT who took her pulse and made the 911 call that would save her life.

At the hospital, her heart rate continued to stay very low and even after a shot of adrenaline, her lungs began to fill up with fluid. She was admitted to the ICU where she continued to receive adrenaline shots until her lungs were clear enough to have surgery. She was cleared for surgery, but as soon as she was put under, her heart stopped twice. It was touch-and-go before the successful implantation of the lifesavingpacemaker.

Surviving this miraculous surprise situation has been trying. Although she is thankful to be alive, Allie has been forced to make lifestyle changes that have proved to be challenging for this former athlete. No more marathon training, no more 85-mile bike rides. Moderation and lots of time with her family are the keys to her health and happiness.

As Allison retold this story recently in more detail that same “butterflies in the stomach” feeling from two years ago came back. It is just one of those moments that makes you stop and think. I always knew Allison was tough (after all, we won many games with her as my wingman in our 2-3 zone), but the perseverance and determination she mustered when faced with a life-threatening situation goes beyond a college basketball game.

I look at her two beautiful daughters and her supportive husband and truly comprehend her character. I am proud to write about her journey and even more proud to share her very inspirational story.

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Allison credits her primary physician, Dr. Rhode, and her cardiologist, Dr. Koch, for their amazing care. If you are interested in learning how you can support an organization that aids women with pacemakers, go to www.wired4life.net.  Back To All Things Lady Griz Home Page

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Krista Redpath Pyron played basketball for the Lady Griz from 1995-2000 and went on to play professional basketball for Virum in Copenhagen, Denmark.  Krista is self-employed and resides in beautiful Missoula with her husband Dave and their two young boys, Evan & Oliver.  She looks forward to writing frequently about her extended family–The LadyGriz.