By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
Austin Lacy has a scar that runs from his neck to his belly button.
It serves as a constant reminder of the ordeal the senior from Pasadena High School went through earlier this year.
What was supposed to be a routine procedure in March to drain fluid from his chest because of an ECHO virus was anything but.
Lacy’s heart stopped for four minutes and his chest was ripped opened so surgeons could massage his heart in an effort to bring him back. A 15-minute procedure from a condition doctors said may have killed a less physically fit patient turned into nearly four hours of surgery.
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Lacy’s body was attached to machines and breathing tubes before he regained consciousness days after theprocedure. He spent a month recovering at L.A. County-USC Medical Center before spending nearly another month at Casa Colina Centers for the Rehabilitation in Pomona.
“It scared me knowing that I almost died,” said Lacy, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound linebacker. “It took me a while to get over that fact.”
They told Lacy he wouldn’t go back to school, let alone play football again. Lacy said he lost oxygen in the back of his brain, and said he was told doctors feared he might not function like a normal teenager.
Lacy was a standout athlete at Bishop Amat when he felt sick during the Lancers’ run-up to the CIF-Southern Section basketball payoffs. He said he felt too weak to run up and down the court.
“I couldn’t breathe,” Lacy said,” and my stomach was bloated.”
Doctors throught it was bronchitis, but his health worsened. A visit to Huntington Hospital revealed an abnormal amount of fluids in his chest.
Lacy’s month-long stay was a tumultuous time for his family. visits from friends eased the process, and Bishop Amat football coach Steve Hagerty was a constant presence at the foot of Lacy’s Bed.
“coach Hagerty came almost every day,” Lacy recalled. “When I first came (to Bishop Amat), I thought like everybody else that (Hagerty) was going to be hard an all about football, but when he came he was a totally different person. He’s the personw ho convinced me that I could come back to do it all, including football, and that made me want to work harder.”
Lacy hated having his blood drawn every day during the recovery stages, because it was hard finding his veins.
“So they kept sticking them and sticking them,” he said. “They were long needles, a process that lasted the whole time I was in the hospital and through rehab.”
Lacy took eight pills a day to flush the ECHO virus poison out of his bloodstream. To Lacy it was tedious, but never painful. For his parents to see their child seemingly in pain was painful enough.
“With me, they were positive,” Lacy said. “It wasn’t until later that I found out they were outside crying. I thought they went downstairs to get food or something.”
Lacy’s long road to recovery started with the basics, such as walking, talking and even telling time. His first exercise was counting to 10 and then backwards. When he tried walking, Lacy said, he “felt like a baby because I couldn’t hold myself up.”
“They said I might not be the same,” Lacy said, “that I was just lucky to be alive.”
Lacy said he was told because of the constant shaking in his hands, his slow reaction and speech, he wasn’t going to play sports again, but his chest bone grew strong and he was cleared to play.
For his first game back, Lacy slowly strapped on his pads, patiently tied his shoelaces and finally slipped into his jersey. He was the last one out of the locker room when Bishop Amat played garfield at East Los Angeles College. He wanted to relish the moment.
Inevitably, Lacy fell back in school and transferred to Pasadena to make up his grades. There was a sense of familiarity at Pasadena, Where Lacy attended his freshman and sophomore years. He’s since conceded the idea of playing college football, but he’s set his sights on Arizona State or Georgia Tech, where he plans on majoring in engineering. With his positive attitude — before and after the ordeal — Lacy said speaking about what he went through could help those going through similar situations and let them know they can come back to a normal life.
Lacy’s father has looked into cosmetic procedures to remove the scar. Lacy pondered the scar for some time before understanding the underlying message.
“It’s a reminder that you can’t take things for granted,” Lacy said. “My life was taken away from me and I got it back. I’m now going to make the best of any situation that’s given to me.
“From being almost dead to playing football. Amazing.”