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Tilghman senior upbeat despite heart condition

By Daniel Paulling dpaulling@paducahsun.com

Andre Strayhorn was scared.

He had just made a pass during one of Paducah Tilghman's first basketball practices this season - something he'd done plenty of times before - but his heart rate began climbing. Soon, the inefficient pumps kept his muscles from receiving enough oxygen. They eventually gave out. He fell to the floor, struggling to breathe.

But that wasn't the worst part for him. The senior had experienced similar attacks the previous two years, which doctors believe to be ventricular tachycardia, but nothing as long as the 10-minute episode. Unsure of when the attack would end, he began to worry.

He drank some water but didn't risk moving otherwise.

"I didn't want to move," said Strayhorn, a 5-foot-10 guard who has averaged 12.2 points and is shooting 45 percent from 3-point range. "I just felt like if I moved, something would happen."

Once his heart rate decreased and he caught his breath, Strayhorn went to Baptist Health Paducah, where his mother, Jennifer, works.

"It's hard as a nurse because your nursing skills go out the window when it's your child," she said. "I think of the worst things that can happen. You hear stories of kids falling on the floor...â ."

After he underwent an EKG and a series of tests to stress his heart, Andre Strayhorn was diagnosed with ventricular tachycardia. Jennifer Strayhorn said the doctor couldn't be certain because the tests hadn't proved the condition, but the symptoms closely matched it. She added the doctor told them that about 2 percent of people have it.

The news was bittersweet. He'd be able to play the sport he loved because there was nothing structurally wrong with his heart, but he'd likely have to deal with the condition for at least a few more years until he grew out of it. Further serious attacks could require surgery.

Strayhorn tells others not to worry about his condition, that he should be the only one thinking about it.

"My mom was really scared," Strayhorn said. "I always say to my mom, 'Ain't nothing going to happen to me. I'm too strong.'"

For now, he's focused on his basketball season and potential career in music. He said he was nervous before the Blue Tornado's first scrimmage and that he thought their season opener against Fulton County on Jan. 2 could be his final game if something went wrong.

"I came out and dropped 20 points and had a couple of assists, a couple of rebounds, a couple of steals," Strayhorn said. "That was the best game I ever played in my entire life. Period. I decided, 'This is my senior year. I have to do that in every game.'"

Blue Tornado coach Brad Stieg believes Strayhorn has provided experience for a team that has just one other senior and a threat from beyond the 3-point arc. He made six in the game against Fulton County.

"When he's on, he's one of the best shooters in the region," Stieg said. "Without him, it would've been a big blow."

Strayhorn hasn't suffered a prolonged attack like the one in practice, but they still come back. He said he felt his heart rate rise for a few seconds last Thursday while solving a problem on the board in AP Music Theory.

He's scheduled to visit an electrophysiologist Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn., to learn more about his condition.

After graduation, he plans to attend West Kentucky Community & Technical College for two years before going to Southeast Missouri State to study music. He hopes to pursue a career in music, maybe as a band teacher or giving music lessons. Strayhorn has the equipment to create beats and record people singing or rapping and can play several instruments but loves percussion most.

"I feel it in my heart," he said, laughing at his pun. "It makes me feel good."

Call Daniel Paulling, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8662, or follow on Twitter @DanielPaulling.

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