Cal freshman Rogers moves forward with career-ending heart condition

By Janie Mccauley, AP
Friday, October 9, 2009

Cal’s Rogers comes to grips with health scare

BERKELEY, Calif. — Tierra Rogers never let herself think she was going to die. Her late father gave her strength and always taught her to persevere through the most trying of times.

Before Rogers’ recent collapse during a basketball workout in which California’s freshman guard stopped breathing, her dad’s murder at halftime of her high school game outside the gym had been the greatest thing she’d endured.

“I’m grateful to be alive,” Rogers said Friday, speaking about her ordeal for the first time. “I knew I was going to make it. At first I was scared, of course, because of the abnormal heartbeat — it was going too fast. Everybody’s going to be scared for their life.”

Now, she is coming to grips with the devastating news her college career is over before it began because of a rare heart condition. Fortunately, it was discovered before it took her life. Last week, she had a defibrillator implanted to manage the problem. She’s been out of the hospital and back in her campus dorm room since Oct. 2.

Rogers, at all of 18 years old, has been through so much.

“Being strong is part of me. … I think that’s just how I was raised, to be strong. My dad always told me a lot of stuff, like: ‘You’re the best. You’re going to do this in life. You’re a strong woman.’ I always kept that in mind,” Rogers said. “I have so much support. You really can’t hold your head down when you have this much support.”

Still, nearly every day Rogers asks herself, “Why me?” She knows it could have been worse: She could not be here at all. Her condition is often fatal.

Rogers lost her activist father, Terrell, when he was shot to death across the street from where she was playing for Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco on Jan. 12, 2008. She considered giving up basketball after the tragedy.

“I lost him during a basketball game and I lost him in times when basketball was crucial for me,” she said. “For him to be part of my life during a stage of basketball, and I can’t pursue that dream anymore, it’s like I’m letting him down, I’m letting myself down. I just think about him during the times where I’m laying down and I’m like, ‘I can’t play ball anymore.’”

Rogers’ condition was discovered as the result of a Sept. 21 workout — some of the episode is still a blur — in which she had trouble breathing, told her teammates she didn’t feel well, collapsed on the court and then again about 30 minutes later into the arms of athletic trainer Ann Caslin at Haas Pavilion outside the training room. She was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital, where she spent a week for testing and observation.

Once doctors determined she had a cardiac condition, she was then transferred to UC San Francisco Medical Center. It was there where doctors discovered her condition — Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia — and performed the procedure. Her condition could have been deadly had it not been discovered, the school said.

“When he first told me, of course I was devastated and I was like, ‘This can’t be real. I know I’m going to go play basketball,’” she said. “It really hadn’t hit me seeing the girls practice and condition. Today and yesterday it kind of hit me, but it hasn’t hit me to the point I say ‘It’s over for me.’”

All this time she thought she was suffering from serious asthma, though she felt discomfort in her heart, too. She was on asthma medication but remembers even back to when she was 15 or 16 telling her mother she felt something in her heart.

“I thought everything I was going through was normal,” she said.

Losing Rogers is a devastating blow to the Golden Bears, who brought in the top recruiting class in the country after a March run to the NCAA regional semifinals for the first time in school history.

A high school All-American, Rogers led her team to state titles from 2006-08, including perfect 32-0 seasons in 2007 and ‘08. She lost only three games in her entire four-year high school career.

Cal will provide counseling to not only Rogers but also her teammates, who are finding ways to keep her involved while still dealing with the shock she won’t be playing alongside them.

Cal coach Joanne Boyle was in Los Angeles at a home visit with a recruit, her phone away in her bag, when all this happened. She immediately flew back to the Bay Area.

Boyle herself survived a life-threatening brain aneurysm while an assistant coach at Duke in November 2001.

“She’s a lot stronger than I am,” Boyle said, fighting tears. “I just hate to see her go through this. We always talk about that there’s a bigger plan, a bigger purpose. We just have to be patient and figure out what that is. I wish she would have had just one year to experience everything.”

For Boyle, this situation is a first. Only time will tell how much physical activity Rogers will be able to do down the road, though light jogging, weight lifting and swimming are realistic possibilities eventually. She is turning her attention to one day becoming a coach.

“We’re just happy she’s here and alive and healthy,” Boyle said. “That competitive drive and passion that she has with basketball, she’ll just redirect that, and it doesn’t have to be determined tomorrow. We have time to think about that.”

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