As women's basketball gets ready to honor one of its own who died this weekend at the Maggie Dixon Classic at Madison Square Garden, another heartfelt story is playing out across the country -- this one with a happy ending. After collapsing last May, first-year Washington State women's coach June Daugherty is bouncing back from her own bout with cardiac arrest
Doctors say that cardiac arrest is usually unpredictable, but Daugherty's case was different. A week before collapsing in the parking lot of Washington's Everett Medical Center, she said she had a feeling something was wrong.
"I have always had extra beats in my heart since I was a little kid, but it seemed more prevelant when I went in for my yearly physical," she said. "My doctor went ahead and ordered a couple of tests."
The test showed something was wrong and after undergoing a stress test, Daugherty was back a week later for a checkup, parking her car in the doctor's lot.
That's where she collapsed.
Her 13-year-old daughter, who happened to be home from school that day and in the car, ran for help. Unlike Dixon and most victims of cardiac arrest who are alone when it hits, 14 people responded to save Daugherty. The American Heart Association estimates unless a victim is immediately administered an electric shock via a defibrillator to restore a normal heartbeat, it can take only four to six minutes before brain damage or death can occur. Ninety-five percent of cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital, so for Daugherty, her proximity to the hospital was like a player having a wide-open shot during a game -- She was in the right place at the right time.
After removing her from her car, it took doctors four rounds of CPR before Daughtery came around once, then three more before she finally was revived.
"I was more sore from the CPR [than anything else]," she said. "Seven is my lucky number."
Once in the hospital, Daugherty went from being a mild-mannered coach to a quasi-bionic woman thanks to the defibrillator with a pacemaker that was inserted in her chest.
"It's an amazing device that gives you so much confidence to know if I were ever to go through this again and my daughter was not around to go and get help, I would be OK," says Daugherty.
This is not Daughtery's first encounter with a pacemaker. On New Year's Eve 2002, Kayla Burt (who played under Daugherty at the University of Washington from 2001-2005) collapsed and was outfitted with a pacemaker after being diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome (a rare hereditary disorder of the heart's electrical rhythm). "I talked to [Kayla] about this and it's overwhelming to think about what happened, what could have happened and how different the results could be," Daugherty says.
Healthy and safe, Daugherty is settling into her new job at Washington State (she was fired from its crosstown rival, the University of Washington, after 11 seasons in March). Her new team rallied around her during her recovery and now back on the court.
"It's funny because when she does get intense, we aren't thinking about that at all," says junior guard Katie Appleton. "She's fine and I think she knows her limitations, but hasn't shown any. She just coaches like she always coached."
With a daily exercise routine that includes walking, yoga, elliptical training and riding a stationary bike, as well as medication, rest and learning to let more roll off her back during the off-season, Daugherty says she's ready to give her all during the 2007-08 season.
But even the officials will be watching to make sure she doesn't overdo it.
"So many of them sent me unbelievable cards and messages when I had my health issues," says Daugherty. "Every one of them I have seen so far at home games will in jest remind me to take it easy."