Heart of steel

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; In a snap, Noel Weathersby’s rather blase day throttled into panic, her world spinning out of control.

There she was one minute, chatting at the back of her gold Ford Expedition with fellow Ramada Inn Hiltop team parents, and the next she was scrambling to get her 10-year-old Ryan Goddard to the emergency room at Natchez Regional Medical Center.

&uot;(Ryan) came around the truck with his hand on his chest and said, ‘Momma,’ and I just knew,&uot; Weathersby said. &uot;I asked him if his heart was racing and he said, ‘Yes ma’am.”’

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The bad news

Natchez pediatrician Brian Stretch diagnosed Ryan at the tender age of six with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a disease that is more common in children than you think.

Hearts are made up of four chambers. The top two are called atria; the bottom pair, ventricles. As a heart pumps, the atria sends blood to the ventricles, which push blood through the heart.

If a normal heart rate &045; 70 to 80 beats per minute (bpm) &045; is a four-cylinder engine, with SVT you’ve got a freight train barrelling through at anywhere from 140 to 250 bpm.

When he was still hitting a baseball of a tee, Ryan had two serious episodes, one in which his heart raced to 208 bpm.

&uot;I knew what was happening and I wanted it to stop,&uot; Ryan said. &uot;It scares me real bad to still think about it.&uot;

Doctors counseled against surgery due to Ryan’s youth and instead instructed him to practice vagal manuevers on his own whenever he sensed an episode.

For example, Ryan would bear down as his heart rate accelerated to calm the pace in between beats.

Ryan remembers being at a basketball practice last season where he, after extensive running, grabbed a seat.

&uot;I just felt (my heart) racing,&uot; said Ryan, who plays football in addition to baseball and basketball. &uot;I beared down and it stopped.&uot;

The drive up I-55

For four years such practices were just what the doctor ordered for Ryan’s SVT.

But after he rounded the Expedition that day at practice and his mother’s instructions to press didn’t work, Noel Weathersby wasted no time dodging traffic on her way to the emergency room, where Ryan’s heart climbed from a worrisome 174 bpm to a terrifying 196 in seconds.

Two-and-a-half hours later Noel, husband Mike and Ryan drove home calm but days after Stretch referred them to a specialist in Brookhaven, who told Ryan he was going to have to have surgery.

There were plenty of risks involved.

&uot;At first, I asked, ‘Why did I have to get this?’&uot; said Ryan, whose mom claims doesn’t like needles. &uot;Then whenever I found out I was going to have to have surgery, I asked, ‘Why did this happen to me?’&uot;

Doctors told Ryan and his parents what the risks were, including the possibility of wearing a pacemaker for the rest of his life if surgeons burned through a nerve. Other possibilities involved a blood clot flowing to his brain, a puntcured lung or even death.

Nearly three weeks have passed since Ryan headed to Jackson’s University of Mississippi Medical Center, where Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Cardiology) Charles Gaymes performed the radio-frequency ablation.

&uot;(Ryan) knew for us to get past this, he had to get (the surgery) done,&uot; Weathersby said. &uot;A lot of prayer was involved and we were blessed.&uot;

Noel Weathersby said she peered through the operating room window, noticed the multitude of nurses, tubes and monitors and pirouetted back into the hall.


Once she saw her boy charming the scrubs off nurses and knew her brother &045; John W. &uot;Beau&uot; Goddard IV, RN, CCRN of neurosurgery &045;

would be clutching Ryan’s hand the entire five hours, her fears were quashed quite a bit.

&uot;I knew that if I couldn’t be in there, my brother was,&uot; Weathersby said. &uot;Ryan knew Uncle Beau was going to take care of him and not let anything happen to him.&uot;

The surgery, known as radio-frequency ablation, began by putting Ryan under with anesthesia and then Dr. Gaymes inserted electrode catheters to the heart through the patient’s neck and three spots on his right thigh to map out the activation seuquence in his heart.

From there Gaymes and his staff put Goddard’s heart rhythm into SVT at 256 bpm to decipher where the abnormal areas were occurring. They then cardirized the problem area to interrupt the sequence.

&uot;He had a short cicuit so to speak and it was causing electricla activity to travel the opposite way,&uot; Gaymes said. &uot;When had to destroy that.&uot;

Noel and Mike Weathersby along with family and friends from Springfield Baptist Church, who came up, got updates from nurses throughout the five-and-a-half ordeal, until the good news of a successful surgery was announced.

Now comes the waiting game. Weathersby said they’ll know in six to eight weeks whether Ryan is completely cured of SVT and future heart problems. Gaymes said it takes close to two months for the inflamation from the burns to resolve.

&uot;(Ryan) knew that this was a cure,&uot; said Gaymes, who vividly remembers the outgoing youngster. &uot;Medicine would only be able to supress a fast heartbeat, but with this surgery there was a 95 percent cure rate and the risk complications were less than 1 percent.&uot;

Ultimate teammates

The night of the surgery the Ballew-Bowlin stands at Duncan Park set off earthquake tremors from the eruption after Natchez Minor League commissioner Porky Smith announced Ryan’s surgery had succedded without a hitch.

Both Ryan and his mother said the support they’ve received from teammates, their parents and church friends is immeasurable.

&uot;We’ve been blessed with a wonderful coach, who is also a wonderful friend,&uot; Weathersby said of Ramada Inn coach Any Yates. &uot;Andy’s not one of those coaches out there yealling at our kids. The whole baseball community has been 100 percent supportive.&uot;

Ryan, who plays pitcher and first base, took to the mound for the first time since his surgery last Thursday to the applause and curiosity of fans and fellow Hilltoppers.

&uot;It felt awesome,&uot; Ryan said of playing again. &uot;(Teammates) were asking me if it hurt and I told them I didn’t feel anything because I was asleep.&uot;

For a kid, whose first word as a toddler was &uot;ball,&uot; not playing sports for Ryan was never an option and his doctors never tried to dissuade him.

Gaymes actually encouraged the Weathersbys and Ryan to play before and after the procedure so he could keep his mind from wandering.

&uot;Before the procedure, Ryan played in a preseason game and people were asking why were we out there,&uot; Noel Weathersby said. &uot;I said that was my child and if the doctor didn’t say we couldn’t carry on with normal activities, then we wouldn’t be here.&uot;

The good news

Gaymes said one in 500 children suffers from SVT. He treats approximately one to three patients a week for the disorder and performs about 60 radio-frequency procedures each year.

Through four years of uncertainty and many bitten fingernails, Noel Weathersby has never asked, ‘Why?’

She was steadfast in trusting God had a planned for her child and this year’s relpase has pushed her to value the time she shares with Ryan even more than she already does.

&uot;It’s really opened my eyes and made me think people need to spend time with their children,&uot; Weathersby said. &uot;Don’t just give birth, know your kid. Instead of watching television or letting them (children) go outside to play, fnd out why they’re so happy.&uot;

She added: &uot;For those people out there that don’t believe prayer makes a difference, I’ll be the first to argue. God blessed us.&uot;

For Ryan, the summer cannot come fast enough. He hopes to never scare his mother like the day he cornered the Expedition clutching his chest.

He hopes to go back to being a normal kid and sseriously pursue his dreams, his future as a professional athlete.

He hopes to get good news from Dr. Gaymes.

&uot;It’ll be satisfying,&uot; Ryan said imagining the day when he’ll be cured. &uot;It’ll be something in the past.&uot;