It could have been so much worse.
With the Merrimack Valley Conference football title still in question, Billerica (Mass.) High quarterback Nick LaSpada felt pressure in his chest as he stared down the Andover (Mass.) High defense. But it wasn't like the pressure he usually felt on the field, from game circumstances or a tight contest. Instead, it was a suffocating feeling of pressure on his lungs, making it hard to breathe. The team was even forced to call a timeout just to give the much lauded passer a chance to catch his breath.
Eventually, the quarterback returned and finished the game, but troubling breaths continued. The problems weren't unprecedented -- fatigue in recent practices had encouraged the quarterback to have a CAT scan done on Friday before the game -- but this was different. When LaSpada took a call the following day, assuming to be cleared of serious health problems, he got something different. According to the Boston Globe, the Friday testing regimen turned up something much more troubling: A hole in the quarterback's heart and a blood clot in his lungs.
From the moment CAT scans taken before Billerica's most recent game -- the 44-28 loss to Andover -- were finally read, LaSpada has spent his time in a bed at Winchester Hospital, where he is expected to undergo further treatment and wile away some of the six months he'll be forced to spend away from any physical activity.
"He's one of the best-conditioned athletes we've ever had at Billerica," Billerica coach Peter Flynn told the Globe. "But we noticed and the kids noticed, his endurance was down big-time. He's such a wonderful young man, it just breaks your heart."
Not surprisingly, the quarterback's teammates were shocked to learn that their on-field leader will be forced to miss the rest of his senior campaign, two years after he was named the 2009 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year. With 13 touchdown passes already in 2011, that senior season was shaping up as another potential award winner, too.
The setback could be equally devastating to LaSpada's future goals. The Globe reported that the senior had planned to attend Harvard, where he would transition to defensive back as part of the football program. Now, with the player's future in football very uncertain, that seems unlikely. Instead, a year of prep school could be the player's first option if he is able to make a complete recovery.
No matter what happens next, LaSpada and his teammates are focused squarely on the passer's health, with a gaggle of teammates visiting their on-field leader after practice each day.
"He's going with the flow right now," said the coach.
Given the circumstances, that's all one could reasonably hope to do. In LaSpada's case, we can all feel lucky that the condition was discovered before much more drastic conditions emerged.
In fact, perhaps LaSpada and his entire group of family and friends should thank Andover for helping make the passer realize that something wasn't right.