JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Jack Talley can’t wait to play in the home opener with his University of Jamestown basketball team on Friday, Oct. 23, but it’s an opportunity he almost didn’t get.
The senior captain from Sioux Falls developed a serious complication from COVID-19, weeks after first falling ill.
A scare during practice landed him in the emergency department at Jamestown Regional Medical Center.
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He was soon found to have inflammation around his heart and lungs.
“To be taken out by a virus that hit me back in August and it's still affecting me now is just unbelievable,” Talley said.
That kind of post-COVID inflammation is being watched by athletic trainers and team doctors across the nation.
A three-month study by a sports cardiologist in Ohio found myocarditis, or heart inflammation, in nearly 15% of college athletes who had recovered from the virus, almost all of whom experienced mild or no symptoms.
Dr. Kent Diehl, who works in the emergency department at JRMC, said the sneaky way the virus operates should make even younger, healthy people take notice.
“We don't really know the lasting ramifications for Jack or any other athlete," Diehl said.
'Very taxing on my body'
Last summer and early fall, Talley, who’s 21 and a political science major, was gearing up for his senior season with the Jimmies.
Listed on the roster as 6’5” and 215 lbs., the starting forward was in great shape from three-a-day workouts.
He and his teammates were taking precautions against COVID-19, including trying to stay away from social gatherings as much as possible.
Sometime in August, he developed a simple cough and sore throat, what he thought was just a common cold.
As a precaution, he was given a COVID-19 test and the result came back negative.
About a week later, when his symptoms got worse, he was tested again and received a positive result.
Talley began a two-week isolation period, during which time he got even sicker, with vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems.
He also was coughing a lot, his chest hurt and he struggled to breathe at times.
Even simple tasks like walking down a hallway were difficult.
“It was seriously very taxing on my body,” Talley said.
Sudden trip to the ER
Like many other schools, the University of Jamestown athletics department has a program for bringing back in intervals athletes who’ve had COVID-19.
When Talley began feeling better, he was run through short periods of exertion to see how body held up.
After several days of clearing the intervals, up to a full level of practice, he was given the okay to return to play.
“Being the eager beaver that I am, I jumped right into practice,” Talley said.
It turns out his body wasn’t ready, after all.
The chest pain and shortness of breath was back, worse than before, his heart was racing and he began hyperventilating.
His coaches brought him to the emergency department, where he was referred to a cardiologist.
Talley was diagnosed with pericarditis and costochondritis, or inflammation of the lining around the heart and of cartilage in the chest, respectively.
He was prescribed anti-inflammatory medications and rest. It took about three weeks for him to feel normal again.
“Even now, I don't know if I'm back to 100 percent. I think I'm close,” Talley said.
Last go around as a senior
Talley has no underlying medical conditions and no family history to indicate he could be susceptible to those complications, he said.
Several of his teammates also came down with COVID-19, but they had quicker recoveries.
The experience has him reflecting on how he’d feel if he somehow infected a more vulnerable person who ended up dying because of the virus.
“That has to weigh heavy on your heart at some point. I mean, you just have to listen to medical professionals,” Talley said.
Diehl said up until a few weeks ago, he wasn’t seeing many COVID-19 patients in the emergency department. Now, it’s a daily thing.
He said he’s not able to transfer older, sicker patients from Jamestown to Fargo or Bismarck because there are no beds available in those cities.
The nursing staff is growing weary of layering up in personal protective gear, and Diehl is pleading with the public to do their part.
“If nobody wants to wear a mask for themselves, wear it for the nursing staff," he said.
When Talley and his teammates take the court against Oak Hills Christian College of Bemidji, Minn. on Friday, he’ll feel more grateful than ever to have outlasted the unpredictable coronavirus.
“As a senior, this is my last go around,” he said.