The scar runs down the middle of Jack Tyler’s chest, evidence of a traumatic yet miraculous time in his life and an 8-inch reminder of what might not have been.
By all accounts, Tyler was a normal kid growing up. He recalls being as active as anyone, picking up the game of soccer when he was about 4 years old. He continued playing through middle school and was ready to take his game to Summit High as a freshman. One routine physical exam prior to that year, however, changed everything — and he is just now returning to normal.
There was no family history of the condition from which Tyler suffered, and Tyler, now a senior midfielder for the Storm, says he experienced no symptoms. “There was nothing,” he assures. “I was definitely healthy.”
It is rare that an anomalous coronary artery, a defect of the heart that may reduce the amount of oxygen and nutrients the heart receives, is diagnosed. According to the Texas Heart Institute, which is internationally renowned in cardiology, most people with coronary artery anomalies, or CAA, are unaware they even have the condition because there are no symptoms present.
Athletes with CAA who participate in strenuous activities, according to the Texas Heart Institute, are especially at risk of sudden cardiac death, as the heart condition is the second-leading cause of death among young athletes.
“A lot of the people that end up having the events, (doctors) don’t find them until after (death),” says Scott Tyler, Jack’s father. “So I don’t know what miracle that somebody was actually paying attention and noticed that he basically had an irregular pulse rate. I guarantee you that was probably a fluke. Somebody was really on their game.”
As with all athletes in Bend-La Pine Schools, Jack Tyler was required to have a routine physical before his freshman year. During the checkup, it was noted that Tyler had some irregular heartbeats. Scott recalls an electrocardiogram picking up runs of abnormal heartbeats. Jack then endured a string of tests in Bend and Portland. Each test only created more questions, until a cardiac MRI revealed an anomalous right coronary artery. The school physical was in mid-August, the diagnosis several weeks later — and open-heart surgery was scheduled for late October.
“Jack kept saying, ‘Nothing’s wrong. They’re just going to finally find out that nothing’s wrong,’” recounts Bev Tyler, Jack’s mother. “We weren’t really thinking anything was wrong. I felt like we were still ruling out things like everything’s going to be OK. … It’s not like you had somebody who doesn’t seem healthy. He seemed totally healthy. Why would you do open-heart surgery?”
“I don’t think he ever really showed any signs of being worried,” adds Scott Tyler. “He never expressed that to us. He got poked and prodded. I think he became more frustrated, like, ‘Nothing’s wrong with me.’ The kid, just prior to his physical, had just played in the Bend Premier (Cup) soccer tournament and played in five games in 90-degree weather and appeared, for all normal purposes, fine.”
Surgery was not required, Jack Tyler says. He could have gone without it, but he would not be allowed by doctors to play sports. Tyler, though, could not imagine a life without athletics, without soccer. Surgery, he was convinced, was the only option.
Obviously, Tyler missed out on his freshman season with Summit, which was unfortunate considering Storm coach Ron Kidder knew of the promising young player. Kidder says he typically has to familiarize himself with incoming freshmen, get to know their names and faces. But he is well-aware of the athletes who compete in club soccer, as Tyler did.
“They jump out at you pretty quickly,” says Kidder, noting that he received periodical updates on Jack’s condition throughout the season and the offseason. “I had a good sense early on that he was a talented soccer player.”
Three months after his son’s operation, Scott Tyler remembers, a stress test did not pick up an arrhythmia. Doctors were still reluctant to let Jack return to the field, so a compromise was reached: Scott and Bev Tyler purchased a portable automated external defibrillator and attended every practice and game. Bev trained the Summit coaches on how to use the AED. Following Jack Tyler’s sophomore season, his parents, doctors said, no longer had to attend every training session and contest, but the AED was to be kept nearby in Jack’s equipment bag.
Three years have passed since that fateful — and yet most fortunate — physical exam. He has since fallen more in love with soccer than he ever was. He feels normal. If not for that scar that he sees in the mirror, he might forget the events that transpired. It is almost, Tyler says, “like nothing ever happened.”
Tyler is lighthearted, Kidder observes, carries a positive disposition and is always joking around. Tyler is playing at a higher level. Kidder sees it; Tyler feels it. Through four games, Tyler has three goals and three assists for a Storm attack that leads Class 5A with 18 goals.
“He came back stronger than ever,” Kidder says. “He’s a very talented soccer player. His senior year, he’s putting up really big numbers this year. He continues to improve. I don’t think he’s satisfied with just getting back. I think he’s looking to getting back to the player he always dreamed to be.”
Heart is a difficult thing to measure in sports, Kidder says. There are no analytics for passion, for “fire in the belly,” as the Summit coach calls it. With Jack Tyler, that task becomes much easier.
“What’s funny about Jack is he’s incredibly fast,” Kidder says. “That’s one of his biggest strengths. He’s got a different gear than most others, and he makes it look so easy when he’s running. When you see him accelerate and separate himself from players, I think those are the times I say to myself, ‘It’s hard to believe that kid’s so fast when he had such a traumatic thing happen to him.’ I mean, he’s got such a flippin’ strong heart.”
With no designs on playing soccer beyond high school, Tyler, a second-team all-Intermountain Conference player in 2015, is highly motivated to make the most of his senior season. Like others, he marvels at his journey from open-heart surgery back to the soccer pitch as part of a powerhouse Summit team.
“It’s been almost three years,” he says, “but definitely … I’m like, ‘Wow, I’m really lucky to still be able to do something I love.’”
— Reporter: 541-383-0307, email@example.com .