All About Heart

By Brendan O'Reilly

July 20, 2010 Updated Jul 20, 2010 at 3:29 PM EDT

It's a cold, rainy October evening on Senior Night in Vestal.
And that's just perfect for one special player.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, Nick Patricia"
Nick says, "I'm so glad that I can play. I mean, I love soccer. It's just, I'm always, after every game, as long as I stay healthy and fit, I know my heart will be healthy."
But it wasn't always that way.
Hours after he was born, doctors realized something was horribly wrong with Nick Patricia.
His mom remembers, "I thought he was a little blue, but I just thought, wow, babies are blue and they took him away and they just never came back. And then hours and hours later, everybody came back and said he has what's called Transposition of the Great Arteries."
"My aorta and pulmonary valves were switched so when I was born, all the oxygenated blood was just staying in my lungs and wasn't going out through my whole body so I was basically suffocating."
"They said, sorry he has a condition that's not compatible with life."
Two-day old baby Nick was airlifted to a New York City hospital.
A specialist from the Netherlands was flown in to perform a new surgery called the Switch.
"They opened up my whole chest and had to take my heart out and put a balloon in while they operated on it and then I was frozen to 20 degrees actually and they had to take all my blood out."
Three hours later, the procedure was deemed a success.
Because the surgery was so new, doctors couldn't make any long-term guarantees.
But 17 years later, Nick is lucky.
Twice-a-year checkups have come back clean and the guy known as Nicky P has grown into a four-year varsity player that'll continue playing in college.
"Sometimes, if he's not running as fast as I think he should, I will say, you know you look a little tired, it's not your heart is it."
Nick's teammate Michael Mendsen says, "It seems like it doesn't even bother him at all. He works harder than any of us out here and that heart just keeps going with him."
"I just feel lucky that I can do anything that I would do if I just had a normal heart."
Nick gives new meaning to the term playing with heart, thankful for every minute on the field and every healthy breath in life.
In Vestal, Justin Horowitz, Action Sports.

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