Eagle’s Landing star forward Eric Wortham Jr. knew it would be hardnot being on the court against No. 1 Columbia in the Class AAA semifinals Friday. “I’m not gonna like it one bit,” he said.
Eagle’s Landing junior Eric Wortham Jr. was home from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta on Thursday after suffering a seizure at school last week, even making a surprise appearance at a team dinner.
The Region 4-AAA Player of the Year was released after five nights and six days at Children’s yielded no answers as to why the 6-foot-5 forward collapsed in the middle of the school cafeteria. That uncertainty still hangs over Wortham, but numerous physical exams and MRIs revealed no red flags. Wortham said he will see a specialist in two weeks in hopes of pinpointing a cause.
“I feel great,” he said. “I’m just so blessed. I was really scared.”
The events from last Friday afternoon are hazy at best to Wortham. He’s had to rely on second-hand accounts from classmates, teachers and coaches to piece the nightmarish episode together.
Wortham remembers joking around with a friend during lunch. The friend, a female classmate, playfully jabbed at Wortham. Approximately 30 seconds later, Wortham fell to the ground in convulsions.
“Everybody thought I was playing,” Wortham said, “because I joke around a lot.”
But it was no joke. Cafeteria staff and Eagle’s Landing principal Gabe Crerie rushed to Wortham and found he’d stopped breathing. Golden Eagles football coach Joe Teknipp was called from the gym and used a defibrillator to shock Wortham twice before paramedics arrived.
Wortham first went to Henry Medical Center to be stabilized, but was soon airlifted to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Wortham said he had a second seizure while in the helicopter en route to Children’s.
When Wortham woke up around 4 a.m. Saturday, he said the first people he saw were his parents and girlfriend waiting in his room.
“I was happy to see them,” Wortham said, “but I couldn’t do too much. I had a lot of medicine in me still.”
Wortham’s family was happy, too, to finally see him responsive.
“Initially, it’s just like any traumatic experience. You’re in a state of shock,” Wortham’s father, Eric Sr., said. “When you get to the hospital, and see he’s not responsive, you feel very helpless.
“But, you know, you always have to go back to your faith. We’ve got strong faith in our family, so we prayed and we trusted that everything would be all right.”
Over the course of the next four days, Wortham underwent numerous MRIs and physical tests. Every MRI came back normal, and Wortham passed each physical test with flying colors.
Indeed, when doctors asked him to ride a bike for five minutes, he told them he felt good enough to run, so they asked him to run on a treadmill for 10 minutes. Doctors finally got him to stop 35 minutes later.
Wortham’s emotional shock came when one doctor talked with him about the very real possibility of getting an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) — a small electrical impulse generator that’s implanted in patients at risk of a heart attack. If given an ICD, Wortham would never be able to participate in sports again.
“I was like, ‘Wow,’ ” Wortham said. “When he told me that, I broke down.”
A team of doctors met with Wortham shortly after with good news — giving him an ICD was not being discussed, and they apologized for the previous doctor’s rash discussion of the topic.
Wortham said he spent the rest of his time in the hospital thinking about basketball and life.
Eagle’s Landing coach Clay Crump brought him film of the Golden Eagles’ 68-66 win over Crisp County in the Class AAA quarterfinals, which made him cringe.
“I was getting mad watching it,” Wortham said, “because there was stuff I was seeing, mistakes we were making, that I knew I could [prevent].”
But Wortham said he wasn’t surprised Eagle’s Landing prevailed without him on the court for the first time in three seasons.
“I was surprised it got real close,” he said. “I wasn’t worried about them. I still think we should win the state championship.”
Wortham traveled Friday to Macon to watch Eagle’s Landing take on No. 1 Columbia for the chance to play in the Class AAA championship, and expected it to be painful to watch his team perform without him.
“I’m not going to like it,” he said before leaving. “I’m not going to like it one bit. I’m going to have to keep reminding myself, ‘I’m blessed to be alive.’ ”
That was his other prevailing thought as he endured the tedious hours at Children’s Healthcare. He started to complain about the food, but stopped. He started to get bored, but thought better of that.
When he finally left the hospital Thursday, Wortham said he truly felt the emotional impact of what he’d been through.
“I see life in a whole different aspect,” he said. “My life was technically gone. Not many people get a second chance at life.”