Battle : Ikpah returns to court after heart defect threatens career

first_img Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 30, 2012 at 12:00 pm Contact Nick: [email protected] | @nicktoneytweets Art Luptowski could see Sesoo Ikpah wasn’t himself sitting on the bench. He looked tired, thin and weak, and the American International (Mass.) College head coach knew something was off.The junior guard looked lost, unable to return to the court with his Yellow Jackets teammates.‘He went from leading our team in minutes played his sophomore year to leading our team in games missed,’ Luptowski said. ‘It was heartbreaking to see him out of the game.’It wasn’t as if Ikpah didn’t serve the playing time. Instead, he physically couldn’t handle it. Following his breakout sophomore campaign at the college in Springfield, Mass., doctors found Ikpah had a heart defect that threatened to end his basketball career. But almost three years after that career-ending diagnosis, Ikpah started a game against New York Institute of Technology early this season, playing with the help of a small defibrillator implanted in his chest.‘I felt comfortable, like I was at home,’ said Ikpah, who is among the leaders in minutes played for the Yellow Jackets with 31.7 per game this season. ‘I’m back to full strength now, no doubt.’AdvertisementThis is placeholder textBut it was a long journey back to the court for Ikpah. In 2009, paramedics had to revive the heart of Ikpah’s older brother, Tav, after it stopped beating. Soon after, heart failure specialist Susan Brozena at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania diagnosed Sesoo with the same career-threatening condition.‘He was the last player you’d think would have a heart problem,’ Luptowski said. ‘He was such a well-conditioned athlete that you just assumed he was in the best possible state of health.Well conditioned or not, Ikpah couldn’t play with the small but dangerous chance that his heart could fail and he could die. For the entire 2009-10 season he sat on the bench, never missing a game or practice, but never participating. He lost weight — enough for Luptowski to notice — but said he never lost hope that he’d get the chance to play basketball again.In August 2010, Ikpah jumped at the opportunity to receive a subcutaneous implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a small device implanted in the chest that administers a life-saving electric shock if it detects an irregular heartbeat.‘It is really small, and it sits right under my skin,’ Ikpah said. ‘They tied it right to my rib bones, just in case. If it picks up on anything, it’ll shock you.’But ‘picking up on anything’ and reviving a pulse are two very different things to Luptowski. In 2003, the coach watched in horror as one of his AIC players — Samuel Gil Alfaro — died in practice from an undiagnosed heart condition.Luptowski described the day Alfaro died as his ‘worst nightmare.’ So even though team doctors tested Ikpah heavily before clearing him for practice, Luptowski said he struggled to let another player with another serious heart condition risk his life ‘for a game.’‘My son plays basketball, and you have to look at (Ikpah’s) situation like that because these players are like my kids,’ Luptowski said. ‘It comes down to whether or not you’d allow your own child to play a game if you knew they could die from it. That decision kept me up nights.’Before Ikpah stepped foot on the court, Luptowski took as many precautions as he could. He met with Ikpah’s parents. He met with Brozena, the doctor who suggested the defibrillator. He even met with the manufacturer of the device for reassurance.‘I didn’t want to go through what I went through (in 2003) again,’ Luptowski said. ‘Especially with a player and a person like (Ikpah).’The coach’s apprehension wasn’t Ikpah’s only obstacle. After AIC filled all 10 scholarship spots under the assumption Ikpah’s was over, the NCAA could only grant Ikpah a medical hardship waiver. And as a non-scholarship player, Ikpah couldn’t play in games during the 2010-11 season.Ikpah could only practice and wait. He finished his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and took graduate-level courses, hoping to go to medical school. Only the promise of basketball kept him at AIC, Luptowski said.On Nov. 11, his patience paid off. Ikpah gained back his scholarship in time to lead the Yellow Jackets with 13 points in his first game since Feb. 24, 2009.The most important statistic for Luptowski wasn’t the points, though. The coach said what impressed him the most was Ikpah’s team-leading 34 minutes played — a testament to his love of the game.‘A lot of players claim they love playing basketball,’ Luptowski said. ‘This guy has a box put next to his heart that proves he loves playing basketball and would risk his well-being because he loves playing basketball. You talk about passion? He’s exactly what I look for in a player.’Games of the weekNo. 2 Syracuse 84, St. John’s 76Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison are as talented as they come in the Big East. The Red Storm started five freshmen against Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium, and they kept the game close. But Madison Square Garden is a home-court advantage, and the Orange should dispatch St. John’s.No. 4 Missouri 89, No. 8 Kansas 85The Border War, basketball style, shouldn’t disappoint. But don’t tell that to Frank Haith’s Tigers, who lost a game they should’ve won on paper to Oklahoma State last week. Still, there’s a lot at stake for what could be the last Kansas-Missouri game in years (Missouri leaves for the SEC next season). If Marcus Denmon emerges from his slump, the Jayhawks could be handed their second road loss this season.Northern Iowa 78, No. 13 Creighton 70The Missouri Valley Conference is known for close games in league play, and Northern Iowa should provide a close one for the 13th-ranked Bluejays. Doug McDermott and Creighton might not have enough to keep Northern Iowa off the glass, and if that’s the case, this could be an upset.Notre Dame 72, No. 15 Marquette 65After beating Connecticut and Syracuse, Notre Dame is 6-3 in the Big East. Marquette should provide a tough day for Jack Cooley inside, but the spot-on perimeter shooting should give the Irish an edge.Connecticut 80, Seton Hall 74Seton Hall won a home game against UConn in early January by playing angrily. Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope wanted to prove the Pirates weren’t the team that got embarrassed by SU, and they proved it. That’s exactly what UConn needs to do after three straight losses. Jeremy Lamb needs to take over for the Huskies in this home [email protected]center_img Commentslast_img

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