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Lewis, who had not been examined by even a single member of the Dream Team, was appalled. "I just thought that no one should have been saying anything at that point—not about my life," he said in his radio interview last weekend. "If I wanted people to know something, I feel like I have the right to give out that information."
Added Donna, "We did take that initial diagnosis very seriously. I felt at the time that information should not have been released."
Many in the medical community were aghast that Scheller had gone public with the dire diagnosis—with or without Lewis's permission. Leach, the editor and former Celtic doctor, said, "The thing to do is hold back, let the team make the announcements. Thinking out loud in front of TV cameras is not going to help anyone. And the 12 cardiologists were a bit of overkill."
The diagnostic news was all the more crushing for Lewis because he had only recently come into his own as Boston's centerpiece player. Like every Celtic veteran of recent years, he had performed in the shadow of Larry Bird, but in his sixth season, with Bird retired and Kevin McHale about to be, the team had begun to rebuild around Lewis. His life was a dream in itself—particularly for a kid from a drugs-and-gunfire neighborhood in Baltimore. He and Donna own a house in Dedham, Mass.; have a 10-month-old son, Reggie Jr.; and can pretty much live as they please on the $3.3 million a year, guaranteed, that Boston pays him. Having come so far, how could he not insist on a second opinion?
The man who had approved his transfer from Baptist was Dr. Gilbert Mudge, director of clinical cardiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital, which specializes in cardiac medicine (Baptist is best known for orthopedics). Mudge began a slow, thorough workup of Lewis. "I questioned him very carefully," Mudge told SI. "It took hours. We went over it again and again."
Mudge learned of the other dizzy spells. Lewis told Mudge that he felt all right when running full speed, but that he felt strange when he stopped. "Reggie said if there was a timeout and he sat down, he felt bad," said Mudge. "If he stood up, he was immediately O.K."
Mudge studied the test results from Baptist. He repeated the echocardiogram, which bounces sound waves off the heart to search for physical damage and congenital abnormalities. "It was normal," said Mudge. "He had the normal heart of an athlete."
Mudge also redid the stress thallium test, in which thallium is injected into the bloodstream so that blood vessels are visible on an X-ray. At first the results were abnormal. Then Mudge realized that the angle of the X-ray machine needed to be adjusted for a man of Lewis's height (6'7"). When that was done, the test was normal. Another test, in which a catheter was inserted in a vein in the groin that feeds up to the heart, found the cardiac arteries to be normal but also found a minor abnormality in the pumping action of the heart, which Mudge attributed to a drug, ergonovine, that Lewis had taken during tests at Baptist.
Next, Mudge did a tilt test, in which the patient is strapped to a table and put through a sudden shift from horizontal to vertical positions. Lewis told Mudge that the procedure made him feel the same as he had during his various dizzy spells. Lewis was given medication, and the test was repeated. This time the result was normal.
At that point Mudge was ready to announce his diagnosis: Lewis was suffering from neurocardiogenic syncope, a relatively benign neurological condition in which the vagus nerve, which transmits information that regulates the tempo of the heart, sends confused signals to the heart about how hard it should be pumping blood. The condition results in fainting episodes caused by an inadequate supply of blood sent to the brain. Mudge said the condition is "poorly understood."