Following open-heart surgery, high school athlete will be back on the court
On a recent morning, Cobe Green confidently spun a basketball on his fingertip.
Ten months after open-heart surgery to correct a defect in a coronary artery, the Bishop Seabury Academy senior says he’s ready for the upcoming season opener, Dec. 6.
He acknowledges that he has some catching up to do after a year of not playing basketball.
“I feel like I’m behind the eight-ball,” he said.
Last fall while feeling on top of his game, the 6-foot point guard went in for a routine medical checkup. The doctor discovered a heart murmur and ordered tests.
“It went from a 20-minute appointment to a four-hour appointment. It was scary. I knew something was up,” Cobe said. “They told us they detected something wrong with my heart and until they figured it out I couldn’t play basketball. It took the air out of me.”
He returned to school and told his coach, Jonathan Raney, that he might be out for a couple of games. Meanwhile, he sat on the stage in the school’s gymnasium and watched his teammates practice.
“I felt fine. I needed to be out there with my teammates,” he said.
A rare condition
It was during the Christmas break that Cobe and his family learned he had a condition known as a right anomalous coronary artery. This is when a coronary artery has an abnormality or malformation. It’s something a person is born with, and the vast majority of cases are not diagnosed until a person is a teen or adult. Cobe’s surgery was Jan. 21 at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.
“What really heightened our fears was that Cobe could have died at any moment due to this rare condition,” said Christopher Green, Cobe’s father.
Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, was diagnosed with an anomalous coronary artery and had the surgery about the same time as Cobe. Shareef is back with the UCLA Bruins after taking a year to recover.
“It was tough on me, my family, teammates and coaches for me to sit out; it hurt,” Cobe said.
“When we got the news, we were pretty stunned,” Raney said. “We had big plans for him, and we are sure he had pretty big expectations himself. This obviously changed our perspective on things. Our main concern was Cobe and his health.”
Cobe wasn’t nervous on the day of the surgery.
“I trusted everyone and felt secure,” he said.
Then, he woke up from the almost five-hour operation in the intensive care unit. His sternum had been cut open to get to his heart. It hurt to breathe, and he couldn’t move the upper part of his body.
But what stands out in his mind during those first hours was his family by his side and a visit from his coach.
Recovery was long and arduous; as frustrating as it sometimes felt, he never gave up the thought of returning to the team.
“I couldn’t put on my own shirt; it was almost like I was a baby again,” he said. An athlete who had been in top physical shape prior to the surgery, he didn’t have the strength to open the refrigerator door.
Despite the pain, two weeks after surgery he returned to school.
“I had to stay up on my grades, especially since I was not playing basketball. I wanted to stay busy and positive,” he said.
Every afternoon, he sat on the stage and watched his team play basketball. During games, he had to sit in the stands, because his doctors worried someone might run into him if he sat with the team.
“What 16-year-old wants to sit there and watch every practice, wishing he could be out there?” Raney said.
While he could no longer play the game, Cobe remained an “emotional spark” for his teammates, Raney said. “Having Cobe sit out affected the team. They had counted on him to play defensively and make baskets.
“The guys did a good job of filling in for him, and we had a good season,” Raney said. “At the same time, we missed his athleticism … and his leadership. He didn’t talk a lot, but he led by example.”
Supporting his team
Bishop Seabury made it to the quarterfinals at state. Cobe wanted to be there with his team, but the doctors were still concerned about the persistent fluid around his heart. While his parents and doctors didn’t want him to travel to the state tournament, he felt he had to be there with his teammates.
He traveled on the fan bus.
“When I got to Hays, it was two minutes before the team was walking on the court,” Cobe said. He rushed into the locker room.
“Cobe lifted the atmosphere when he walked through the door. To see all he went through to surprise us,” Raney said.
The team lost in overtime to Ness City, the team that went on to win state. Later in March, Cobe had to have a second surgery to drain the fluid from around his heart.
By June, he got the OK to begin working out. He went running with his family and couldn’t make it down the street. But he didn’t give up. He spent the summer getting in shape.
Basketball practice began Nov. 18. After the first day, Cobe remembered when he couldn’t get out of bed by himself; now he was running down the court making passes and shooting jump shots.
“We’re thankful to have him back,” Raney said. “By the end of the season, he will be playing his best basketball.”
The season kickoff will be a big moment for Cobe, who won’t be watching from the stands.
“My shoes will be laced up,” he said, with a broad smile. “I will be on the court, and my name will be called.”