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Heart of the Matter
William Oscar Johnson
May 24, 1993
The on-court collapse of Boston's Reggie Lewis left his future in doubt, sparked a bitter battle among medical experts and raised questions about the role of team doctors
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May 24, 1993

Heart Of The Matter

The on-court collapse of Boston's Reggie Lewis left his future in doubt, sparked a bitter battle among medical experts and raised questions about the role of team doctors

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Harold Klawans, a Chicago neurologist, says, "It is a crazy reflex abnormality. We really have no idea what makes it happen. But the incorrect signals from the vagus nerve can be easily blocked by medication."

On May 10, Mudge told a press conference, "I am optimistic that under medical supervision, Mr. Reggie Lewis will be able to return to professional basketball without limitation." That's clearly what Lewis hopes to do. "I'm just glad," he said, "it's finally come to an end."

But it hasn't. Mudge's rosy diagnosis stood for less than a day before it came under attack by a member of the Dream Team. Mark Josephson, director of the Harvard/Thorndike Electrophysiology Institute at Beth Israel Hospital, told the Globe, "I still think ventricular arrhythmia is more likely the cause of his collapse than neurocardiogenic syncope."

Josephson disputed Mudge's findings in the echocardiogram ("cardiomyopathy can be missed with an echocardiogram"), the catheterization ("ergonovine cannot explain the abnormal results") and the tilt test ("it can be falsely positive 15 to 25 percent of the time, and a positive tilt test may have nothing to do with the problem"). He said that Lewis's electrocardiogram at Baptist had been "very abnormal; it was not subtle" and that the Dream Team doctors "did not make up" their findings.

"I would love for him to have [neurocardiogenic syncope]," said Josephson, "but our thallium and catheterization tests were consistent with each other and with an MRI [magnetic resonance imaging test]. All showed damage to part of the heart."

So what does it all mean? About the only thing one can say for sure is that the questions remain almost as puzzling as they were the night Lewis collapsed against Charlotte. Can Lewis ever play again? Should he? Should the Celtics let him? What are the legal ramifications? The medical? The financial? The telltale heart pounds on and on.

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