SI Vault
A Matter Of Heart
Rick Reilly
December 26, 2005
The toughest teenager to shop for in all of America has to be high school hoops player Steve Ketcham. There's almost nothing on his Christmas list.
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December 26, 2005

A Matter Of Heart

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Weeks went by. Steve's body showed no signs of rejecting the new heart. In fact, the two got along fine, though Steve still couldn't talk. Naturally, who should walk in to see him but one of his personal basketball gods, Duke guard J.J. Redick.

Redick said something like, "How you doin'? Heard you were a hoops player." Steve's eyes went as big as cereal bowls, but no words could come out.

That's when Steve's dad said, "Yeah, he is. You play basketball?"

If Steve could've crawled under his hospital bed, he would've. "Yessir," said Redick, maybe the nation's best player. He stayed 30 minutes and left a signed hat, Steve's prize possession.

When Steve was walking and talking again, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski let him come to practice and sit behind the bench at games. Steve got inspired to play again.

But then Bobby Cremins, the former Georgia Tech coach, met Steve at a Duke practice and, trying to temper Steve's expectations, unintentionally pulled out a hope extinguisher. "He basically told me, 'No way a kid with a heart transplant is going to ever play high school basketball again,'" Steve says.

Cremins was right, of course. Heart transplant recipients just don't do that. For 75% of them, the life expectancy after receiving a new heart is five years. And that's walking on eggs, not taking charges against barreling forwards.

Steve's mom tried to talk him out of trying. "Mom," Steve finally said. "I'd rather live five years playing ball than 10 not having any fun."

The doctors' advice? "Seize the day."

Steve did more than that. He seized his life. And on Dec. 1, Steve Ketcham returned to the starting lineup at Cheyenne Mountain High. He wore a paintball chest protector to shield his new heart and on his shoes, written on the toes so that he could see them every time he looked down, were the words bobby cremins.

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