Photo by Diane Cox
EA-WR’s Kaleigh Young gets into position at second base against Columbia on Tuesday. Young, a sophomore, is back after having heart surgery in June 2014.
Walking through the halls at East Alton-Wood River High School, you’re bound to see a T-shirt or a sign that reads “Oilers have heart.” For sophomore Kaleigh Young, it was her heart that proved to be the obstacle.
“Kaleigh had always complained of chest pain, ever since she was a little girl,” Kaleigh’s mom, Cassie Young, said. “When she began having problems with shortness of breath too, we took her to doctors, had tests run like X-rays, EKG, and everything checked out fine. After her continued complaints, physicians chalked it up to asthma. I had that nagging ‘mom’ feeling that something more was wrong.”
As Kaleigh continued to struggle, her performance in activities such as cheerleading and softball began to suffer. It wasn’t until a nurse practitioner ordered an electrocardiogram that it was discovered that Kaleigh had a hole in her heart.
“After all the tests that had been run, we wondered if it was really necessary to do the echo,” Cassie said. “I called the doctor’s office a week or so later to check on the results, thinking that everything was going to be fine, like the other tests. My own heart fell to my feet when I heard them say ... ‘Kaleigh has a hole in her heart.’”
Kaleigh had surgery in June 2014 at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, after school was out for the summer. The procedure involved inserting a small disc that sealed the hole in Young’s heart. Over time the disc would dissolve, filling that space and becoming part of the heart itself.
“I have to admit, I was relieved when I found out about the hole in my heart,” Kaleigh said. “Just knowing what the problem was and finally understanding what was keeping me behind everyone else, but it was also kind of devastating and scary. No one wants to hear those words that they have a hole in their heart.”
Young took a month off to recover after heart surgery before she was given a clean bill of health and permission from her doctors to return to life as a normal teenager with no restrictions.
EA-WR softball head coach Dana Emerick was amazed by his young pitcher’s drive to return to the diamond after such a scary and uncertain health concern.
“I can’t imagine what she went through, I’ve never had to deal with anything like that personally,” Emerick said. “For her to battle and come through heart surgery the way she did and to come back and pitch the way she did against a team like Carrollton in her first appearance, that’s just a testimony of perseverance. I’m proud of her for that. We’re working on attitude and trying to encourage her to go hard every game. She will continue to progress and get bigger and stronger. She definitely has the ability.”
Young has decided to put more focus into softball with the hopes to have a collegiate career after her time at EA-WR. She will continue to play for the Bluff City select league during the summer months to promote herself and push on.
“I feel 150 percent better,” Young said. “I definitely feel like I’m more capable to do things now than I was. I know this situation could have gone either way, I’m just thankful it went the way it did.”
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