Dec. 30–Playing football may have saved Nigeire Poyser’s life.
Last summer, Poyser, a 16-year-old sophomore, tried out for the Ribault High School football program and was picked to play linebacker on the junior varsity.
Each summer, before the school year and the games begin, all student-athletes enrolled in public schools in Duval County are given free health screenings by the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program at Wolfson Children’s Hospital and Nemours Children’s Clinic. The screenings, done by volunteer pediatric health-care providers, include physicals and cardiology tests.
During the screening Nigeire said that his heart sometimes raced when he was hit during practice. Pediatric cardiologist William Marvin did an EKG and told Nigeire he had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.
“He showed me a regular heartbeat, then he showed me mine,” Nigeire remembered. “Mine was different.”
The syndrome, which Nigeire calls WPW, is an electrical abnormality in the heart that causes a fast heart rate. Nigeire was born with an extra bundle of nerves, causing a very rapid heart rate called supraventricular tachycardia. It’s a condition that one out of every 500-600 young people are born with, said Randall Bryant, a pediatric electrophysiologist with the UF Health Pediatric Cardiovascular Center, which is affiliated with Wolfson Children’s Hospital.
“A lot of kids, they ignore stuff like that,” Bryant said. “They aren’t mature enough to recognize it as abnormal.”
Bryant told Nigeire that the condition was dangerous. If the condition was left untreated, any blow to his chest could possibly result in sudden cardiac arrest, Bryant said. But he also told Nigeire that it is very treatable, by doing a catheter ablation, a technique often used to treat atrial fibrillation.
“When I told him, ‘I know what’s wrong with you. I can take care of it and you can be back on the field in a few days,’ Nigeire jumped up and hugged me,” Bryant said. “That’s one of the things that is remarkable about him.”
Bryant performed the procedure on July 17. He threaded the catheters through Nigeire’s groin into the main vein that leads to his heart, where he performed the catheter ablation, cauterizing the extra nerves that were disrupting Nigeire’s heart rate.
When Nigeire woke after the procedure, wearing his “nice little hospital socks,” all he wanted to do was eat. He ate soup, eight ice creams, 14 crackers and two Jellos while drinking four bottles of Powerade.
After a three-week delay to allow his system to recover and after passing a stress test on a treadmill, Nigeire returned to the football field, playing linebacker for the junior varsity team. He was promoted to the varsity before the annual game with Raines High School. Although he didn’t play, dressing and standing on the sideline “was a nice experience,” he said.
He’s been working in the off-season conditioning program and is looking forward to spring practice so he can “gain more experience.”
He loves science and often watches the Discovery Channel. He’s studying Chinese, hoping that will look good on college applications. He likes to listen to “music that makes me happy.”
And his idea of the perfect way to spend a day is to “relax, have fun and be goofy.”
(Also blue is his favorite color, chocolate is his favorite flavor and napping and thinking are his favorite activities.)
Nigeire had a checkup three months after surgery and his EKG was completely normal. He will make follow-up visits with Bryant at six months and 12 months before he is considered “cured.”
Bryant said he has participated in the Jacksonville Sports Medicine Program’s free student-athlete screenings every year since he arrived in Jacksonville in 1996.
“These screenings save kids’ lives by identifying kids at the highest risk due to an undiagnosed heart condition,” he said. “Our goal is not to restrict kids from playing sports, but to make sure they can play safely.”
Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413