Iowa High School Player Fights Rare Heart Ailment

On Jan. 8, Brent Warren celebrated his 17th birthday as most teenagers do when it falls on a school day. He woke up, got dressed and went to class. But unlike most 17-year-olds, Warren was overjoyed to have the chance to go to school, even if it was his birthday.

It was his first day back at Xavier High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in almost a month, and the first time in nine weeks his life seemed back to normal.

On Nov. 1 a routine physical before the start of basketball season revealed that Warren had a congenital heart condition. An exceptional athlete and one of the nation’s top high school underclassmen as a baseball player, Warren was told he could no longer play sports and his condition would require open-heart surgery.

“Here I was, a high school kid living in the high school world, just going to school and enjoying life. And a bomb is dropped like this,” Warren said. “It didn’t settle in until our first basketball game when I had to just sit there. I realized I couldn’t do anything.”

Warren and his parents spent the next month going from one doctor to the next, gathering information and opinions on the best way to treat his heart condition. He had a bicuspid aortic valve, meaning the valve had not developed normally and was restricting blood flow to his body.

They discovered his heart had a second flaw–coarctation of his aorta, a more serious, less common condition that, in combination with the other ailment, would likely lead to an aneurism.

The Warrens flew to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, where Dr. Thoralf Sundt performed an aortic bypass, a procedure that called for Brent’s body to be cooled to 34 degrees Celsius, achieving a deeper form of anesthesia than is typically induced in most operations. The surgery went well, and Warren’s aortic valve was repaired rather than replaced.

But as Warren lay in his hospital bed the day after Christmas, he prepared himself for the long-term prognosis, expecting to hear that his dream of playing major league baseball would have to remain just that, and that his heart would never be stable enough to allow for significant cardiovascular activity.

“The doctor came in to go over the data with him and the first thing Brent said was, ‘Doctor, please, you have to tell me, am I going to play again?,’ ” Warren’s father Chris said. “When the doctor looked him straight in the face and said he thought there remained a chance he would (play again), he literally almost fainted.

“He sat and cried for 15 minutes. Amazingly, it was the first time he had cried throughout the entire process.”

Warren had lost 20 pounds from his 6-foot-2 frame, but he was walking lightly on a treadmill once a day for 15 minutes. He will return to the Mayo Clinic in March for an eight-hour series of tests that will reveal if he’ll be able to play sports again.

Warren and his family were cautiously optimistic that he might resume his pursuit of a professional baseball career, an idea that seemed impossible just three months ago.

“I feel great,” Warren said. “I’m not in the most athletic shape in the world, but every day I’m getting stronger and I know I’ll be back better than I was before.”