RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Grant Golden had no idea what was happening when he collapsed.
“I just got extremely dizzy and then I ended up blacking out at half court,” the Richmond forward said, recounting a frightening few moments last December during a game against Texas Tech.
Teammate T.J. Cline yelled at him to get up, thinking Golden had slipped on a wet spot. On the bench, trainer Adam Smith remembers joking about Golden’s clumsiness.
“And then when he collapsed on the bench, we obviously knew it was something a little bit more serious,” Smith said.
Golden fell three times and was unconscious for “three to five seconds,” Smith said, before he came to, alert and talking.
Moments earlier, Coach Chris Mooney noticed that the 6-foot-9 freshman appeared “a step slow” on defense. Now there was an emergency, one that evoked memories of Loyola Marymount star Hank Gathers, who collapsed and later died during a nationally televised game March 4, 1990.
“The scariest moment I’ve ever had in coaching, for sure,” Mooney said.
Golden had no history of heart problems. But his heart was beating so fast the training staff couldn’t take his pulse manually. The Spiders’ medical team scrambled to assess what was wrong in the hushed arena. They put him on a stretcher and he was wheeled to an ambulance.
“Probably the scariest situation I’ve dealt with in my professional career so far,” Smith said.
Golden spent two nights in the hospital and was found to have an irregular heartbeat. Less than a week later, he underwent a relatively simple procedure to eliminate the abnormal electrical signal in his heart that caused the problem. He was later cleared to return to basketball.
Among those watching the game on television was Golden’s mother. Ellen DePoy-Golden was home in Winchester, recuperating from surgery.
“When he collapsed, the first thought was that he had slipped and the floor was wet,” DePoy-Golden said in a telephone interview, speaking of the announcers. “Didn’t think too much about it. The camera wasn’t on him, and then they said, ‘Something is wrong with Golden. He went down in front of the bench,’ and my heart just stopped.”
Among those attending to her son was her husband, Craig, who had made the trip to Richmond that morning. He alerted the doctors to his own history with atrial fibrillation. Mooney also had two friends at the game, sitting behind the Spiders’ bench. One is an ER trauma doctor, the other a heart surgeon.
“You don’t want it to happen during a game on national television, but he could have been in his dorm room alone and blacked out,” DePoy-Golden said. “He could have been driving and blacked out, so of all the places for it to happen, he was without a doubt in the best place possible just because of the people that were around.”
Dr. Kenneth Ellenbogen, chairman of the cardiology division at Virginia Commonwealth University, said VCU has cared for numerous athletes with similar issues over the past 30 years.
“Within a couple days after (the procedure), they can return to whatever sport they play,” Ellenbogen said.
Golden waited a few weeks to resume weight training. A week after the Spiders’ season ended, in late February, he was cleared to rejoin the team for workouts.
“That was definitely the hardest part, just mentally accepting that I was OK and everything,” he said.
Mooney acknowledges some trepidation at first. Golden recently was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, giving him an extra year of eligibility.
“He’s a tremendous athlete and he’s pushing himself and doing well and feeling confident,” Mooney said. “I know he doesn’t want to be treated (differently). He wants to be coached and normal and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Golden’s mom was certain her son would return to basketball.
“Believe me, Grant’s heart has had every test known to man now,” she said. “It concerned me, but there really was never a thought of telling him, ‘I don’t want you to do this,’ because it’s his dream and he has worked so hard.”