By Brian Totzke
For the Chronicle
This is a story about a kid with two hearts.
I’ve known Trevor Ranton since he was a rugrat playing under the bleachers with my youngest son while their older brothers played hoops on a nearby court. To look at him you wouldn’t have thought there was anything different about him then, and you wouldn’t think it now.
But there is something different about Trevor. Something not obvious to the outside world. Something he carries with him for life but never wears on his sleeve.
Trevor was born with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. HCM for short.
If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because you heard about the sudden passing of a young athlete.
Maybe you recall the shocking death of Windsor Spitfires captain Mickey Renaud in 2008. Renaud was rushed to the hospital with no vital signs after collapsing in his Tecumseh, Ont., home. He died at 19.
Or maybe you remember college basketball player Hank Gathers, the Loyola Marymount star who collapsed on the court and then died in ambulance. He was 23.
Neither one knew they were suffering from HCM. That is why Trevor’s parents, Sandra and Doug, consider themselves “very lucky.”
“Trevor was born with a heart murmur,” Sandra said. “Our pediatrician was concerned with how Trev’s heart sounded so he ran some tests. That’s when we found out. Medication didn’t work, so he had to have open-heart surgery. He was seven months old.”
“Luckily, we knew what we were dealing with right away,” Doug said. “A lot of other families have dealt with tragedy because it’s gone undetected.”
HCM is a disease in which the myocardium (muscle of the heart) thickens, making blood flow more difficult. Trevor had pressure in his left ventricle as blood attempted to leave his aorta. As a result, doctors removed part of an enlarged septum.
“It’s called a septal myectomy,” said Doug, who rattles off pertinent medical terms like he’s co-starring on an episode of House.
“Amazingly, he was home five days later,” added Sandra, “and has never experienced any of the warning signs since. But a defibrillator is never far away.”
Trevor has his own defibrillator but nowadays it is standard equipment in local high schools thanks in large part to the efforts of the Rantons and school board personnel. They’re also in most recreational facilities. Learning to operate one is even part of the Grade 9 physical education and health curriculum, a course Doug teaches at WCI, where Trevor is a student.
While in Grade 4, Trevor’s parents attended a conference that focused on HCM and included experts from around the world. The research was abundantly clear: Participation in high-intensity sports (hockey, soccer, etc.) was extremely risky. Although the decision was a “no-brainer,” it was still very difficult for the Rantons to tell Trevor that his favourite sport, basketball, was no longer an option.
As a rep player, he was crushed. As an athlete, he chose to re-focus.
Armed with a positive attitude and the heart (pun intended) of a true competitor, Trevor has since excelled at baseball, bowling, curling and his new fave, golf.
He captured the WCSSAA individual title in Grade 9 and is the Whistle Bear junior men’s club champion. A challenging layout, his low score there is a 66. (On a windy day, that would be my nine-hole score.)
He’s become a scratch golfer and this summer, as a 15-year-old, played in the under-19 Ontario championship. He came within three strokes of qualifying for nationals while competing against older golfers, some already on scholarship.
Now medication-free and asymptomatic, Trevor confesses he still worries sometimes, especially when he’s running around with friends.
“It’s dangerous for my heart rate to reach 160, so I keep a check on it,” he said. “A device on my watch helps.”
Parents never stop worrying, although Sandra says it’s less so nowadays. “We have to trust him to be smart about it as he gets older. He won’t be at home forever.”
“Like other things in life, balance is the key,” Doug adds. “You still gotta be a kid.”
Trevor Ranton is no longer the little bleacher creature underneath my feet. He’s the kid with two hearts.
One he was given and the other he grew himself.
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Brian Totzke is a teacher and coach at Sir John A. Macdonald Secondary School.
You can follow him on Twitter @sjamguy.