Pacific Lutheran

‘Athlete’s heart’ puts scare in PLU player

Austen Trent Wilson is a worrywart and obsessive. Always has been and likely always will be.

On the basketball court, particularly for a shot-blocker like the 6-foot-7 Pacific Lutheran University senior, it is a good trait. He is always studying an opponent’s shooting tendencies in order to understand the best time to try to jump up to alter a shot.

Off the court, it is a different matter. His friends tease him about his habits. Even amid the serious health scare he suffered in September.

Wilson has had an up-and-down career. He has battled through different ailments, including a stress fracture in his back during his sophomore season. He was also scolded sometimes because of a poor attitude.

But over the past year, Wilson had worked diligently to become better and stronger. Since he came to PLU, he has packed 40 pounds of muscle on his frame.

“He has worked hard for four years on his body,” Lutes coach Steve Dickerson said. “He can run like a deer. He is one of our most athletic guys.”

It was an early morning when Wilson got up for a workout. Something did not feel right. His chest felt tight.

One of his roommates is teammate Terrell Williams. The two are close friends, having grown up together in Federal Way and played at Decatur High School — until Williams transferred to Mount Rainier High School for his senior year.

Wilson immediately complained about the sensation, to which Williams shook his head.

“Initially I thought it was high blood pressure or something, and that he would be fine,” Williams said. “Knowing him, I thought he was extra worried about something he should not have been.”

Wilson phoned his mother, Sarah, to get advice. She told him to get it checked out.

He first went to the medical center on campus. His blood pressure was high, so he was told to visit a doctor.

Later that day, Wilson went to the MultiCare Lakewood Urgent and Care Clinic. An electrocardiogram was given to check the electrical activity in his heart. A second time, he was told his blood pressure was high, and to take it easy for a few days.

“At this point, I was freaking out,” Wilson said. “I am one who has to lift (weights) and work out, or I go crazy.”

After a week or so, Wilson visited his regular doctor in Federal Way. There, it was discovered he had a growth on the right side of his heart.

“I was really worried,” Williams said. “At this point, it was more than basketball. He is only 21 years old, and it just tells you when something like this happens, there is more than basketball to life.”

Finally, Wilson saw a cardiologist — Dr. Elizabeth Chan, of Virginia Mason Hospital in Federal Way. After running a few more tests on Wilson, Chan discovered an enlargement of his heart.

She narrowed her diagnonsis to two things: Either Wilson had somethiong called “athlete’s heart” — an increase in muscle mass due to high-intensity training — or he was showing early signs of heart failure.

Wilson ran through more tests, including a stress test, to reach a conclusion. Chan even met with a panel of doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center to get opinions about Wilson’s case.

All of this was happening, and Wilson was missing the first couple weeks of PLU basketball.

“To have this thrown at me after all the hard work I put in was stressful,” Wilson said. “I talked to Terrell a lot. He would say, ‘You will be fine.’ He was always there to reassure me

“I was more like, ‘... I need to play basketball.’ And he would respond, ‘Either way, if it is over with basketball, you will enjoy your life.’

Closure finally came after he submitted to a echocardiogram with strain imaging, which is used to study the subtle changes in heart function.

“I drove up to Seattle,” Wilson said. “The test literally took three minutes.”

Heart failure was ruled out as a possibility. But Wilson has had to change a few things, like cutting back on his weightlifting, and taking all the caffeine out of his diet.

And he played in seven games in the nonconference portion of the schedule, including starts against Seattle University, UC-Santa Cruz and The Evergreen State College while Bryce Miller was out. He is averaging 11.6 minutes per game.

“I am now going full bore,” Wilson said. “I am feeling a lot better.”