Nathan Montgomery’s season came to a sudden stop for the Big Walnut boys lacrosse team this spring because a routine checkup found a seemingly career-ending diagnosis.
Spoiler alert: this story has a happy ending – just a very scary beginning and middle.
Montgomery was in the midst of his junior season as a midfielder. The Golden Eagles were turning the corner with three wins in five games after a 1-5 start.
He was one of the team leaders, amassing 22 goals, eight assists and 62 groundballs through 11 games and was enjoying a five-game stretch in which he scored nine goals and helped out on seven others.
“He’s probably the best conditioned athlete I have,” BW lacrosse coach Michael Brunner said. “He stays on the field more than any other midfielder. He plays both ways – both offense and defense. He’s our leading groundball guy and probably would have been our leading scorer had he not missed the last five games.”
But a routine checkup through the school, set up by his mother, turned up a possible problem.
Montgomery followed up with his physician who used a battery of tests and found that he had Long QT Syndrome.
“They said that it’s genetic,” Montgomery said. “So, they did genetic testing in my whole family and nobody else had it. I’m the first one. I’m the lucky one.”
It is defined as, “a disorder of the heart’s electrical activity … that can cause sudden, uncontrollable, dangerous arrhythmias in response to exercise or stress,” according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website.
The website added that there is no known reason for the arrhythmias and not everyone diagnosed will have them at dangerous levels, but adds that they can be fatal.
It is diagnosed using an electrocardiogram test. The heartbeat has five distinct electrical waves – P, Q, R, S and T. The interval between Q and T is electrical activity in the ventricles or the lower chambers of the heart. This interval is normally about a third of the heartbeat cycle. LQTS is when the interval last longer than normal.
The NHLBI estimates about one in 7,000 people suffer from LQTS. That’s only an estimate because it often goes undiagnosed.
“Not a lot of people get this,” Montgomery said. “I had no idea what it was – I had never even heard of it.”
Montgomery thought – at the very least – his career was over.
“My initial thought was I thought I was going to die from it,” he said. “But then they explained to me that it’s serious, and that could happen, but the medicine that they give is going to reduce that chance (greatly).”
It took about two weeks of testing out different dosages of beta-blockers before they found the correct dosage and he was cleared to play with no restrictions.
“I wanted to get back to playing sports as soon as possible,” he said. “So, we started out on a really high dose. That first couple days … I felt really bad because it slows your heartbeat down – so that makes you super tired.”
“I’m just very happy that he’s been cleared,” Brunner said. “It’s a very core part of his personality and his drive – playing basketball and playing lacrosse. I was worried about him until I found out he was cleared.”
Montgomery’s situation had a major impact on the lacrosse team, according to Brunner. The Eagles lost each of their last five games of the season, including a loss to Licking Valley in the first round of the Division II tournament.
“It was a huge blow to our team because he’s not only our best player, but he’s our emotional leader,” Brunner said. “It was really hard for some of the guys, who were really good friends with him. To not know if he’s ever going to play again … it kind of took an emotional toll on them.”
“I think everybody was just worried,” Montgomery said. “So, they didn’t play the same game that they usually do.”
Brunner says Montgomery is one of his team’s best leaders.
“He’s a really high-character kid,” Brunner said. “(He’s) very coachable … he’s a very unselfish lacrosse player. I actually wish he would be more selfish sometimes and be willing to shoot more and assert himself more than he does. But, that’s just his character. He doesn’t want to be the only one with the spotlight on him.”
“I think it’s because I respect everybody,” Montgomery said. “There’s no one person better than the other and I make sure people know that.”
He was cleared the day after the team’s tournament loss, which stung. But – equipped with an automated external defibrillator – it’s almost as if nothing happened.
“That’s the only time I really think about it is when I see the AED on the sideline,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery, who is entering his senior year at BW, hopes to move on and play lacrosse at one of the area Division III schools like Capital or Otterbein.
For now – he’s just happy to be back.
“I’m not going to let anything stop me,” Montgomery said.
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