Monday, September 30, 2002

Huggins improving after heart attack

UC waiting to decide on replacement coach

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        University of Cincinnati basketball coach Bob Huggins remained in serious but stable condition at a Pittsburgh area hospital Sunday night, but doctors were pleased with his progress since a heart attack Saturday morning at the Pittsburgh International Airport.

        Athletic Director Bob Goin, who was in Pittsburgh with Huggins, returned to Cincinnati on Sunday night and went right to Shoemaker Center to give an update on the Bearcats' coach.

        “The good news is that he got through the evening very successfully,” Goin said. “I think the doctors were encouraged by that. He was alert. He's talking. He's in pain, and the pain that he's complaining about is his back.” Huggins sat up and even got out of bed briefly Sunday, said Tom Hathaway, assistant athletic director for media relations.

        Doctors said Huggins had a restful night after having a stent inserted to clear a clogged artery, Hathaway said.

        Goin said he is hopeful Huggins will be able to return to Cincinnati this week.

        Goin also indicated that he has not made decisions as to what will happen with the basketball program should Huggins not be able to return for a while. Practices begin Oct. 12. Goin said he will probably talk to the players today.

        “After there's an evaluation by pros on what kind of work demands he can handle, that's when we'll make an adjustment,” Goin said.

        Because Huggins' heart attack has been described as “massive,” it's likely that one of the major arteries that feeds the heart muscle was blocked, said Lynne Wagoner, a cardiologist and medical director of the heart failure/transplant program at University Hospital.

        His ability to return to work depends on the extent of heart muscle damage.

        “If there's less permanent damage, typically you can go back to work sooner, but probably not before a month or two. If there's more damage, you may never be able to return to work,” Wagoner said.

        Immediate treatment minimizes heart damage, so Huggins was fortunate the heart attack occurred where it did because he was able to get help and be treated quickly, Wagoner said.

        Huggins, 49, could have easily been on an airplane. He was scheduled for a late morning flight out of Pittsburgh to Milwaukee with a 12:40 p.m. connection at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport. He was scheduled to attend a Nike coaching clinic in Wisconsin.

        Huggins spent Friday afternoon watching potential recruits play in an open gym at Baldwin High School in Pittsburgh.

        On Friday night, Huggins visited with J.O. Stright, a long-time friend who runs a successful Pittsburgh AAU program and was once legal guardian to former Bearcat star Danny Fortson.

        Huggins drove his National rental car to Pittsburgh International Airport around 8:30 a.m. Saturday and returned it. He started to feel chest pains, then used his cell phone to call Stright, saying, “I'm sweating. I feel like I've got an elephant on my chest. I'm having a heart attack.” The phone lost connection. Stright called back and got Huggins' voice mail. He called a friend and asked the friend to call 911.

        Stright jumped in his car and headed for the airport. His friend called back to say somebody had already called 911 and an ambulance was on the way.

        A woman working at a rental car counter said she saw Huggins with a police officer on the sidewalk on the edge of the parking garage area across from the Hertz car rental booth.

        “I think he either found the policeman or the policeman found him before he went down on the cement,” said the woman. “And then he was laying on the sidewalk and the policeman was there with him until the paramedics came.

        By the time Stright arrived at the airport, Huggins was already in the ambulance and headed to Sewickley Valley Hospital in Sewickley, Pa., roughly 5 miles west of the airport.

        Stright was there when the ambulance pulled in. Huggins' shirt had been ripped off by paramedics. “He was conscious but in pain,” Stright said. “He said it was getting worse.”

        Huggins was then transferred to the Medical Center, Beaver, in Beaver, Pa., 19 miles north of the airport and 35 miles north of downtown Pittsburgh. Stright followed.

        Sewickley and Beaver are both part of the Heritage Valley Health System.

        Stright said there was some blockage in all three main coronary arteries.

        “He's obviously really groggy,” Stright said Sunday night. “Mentally, I found him to be very alert but very tired and very weak, understandably. I had him laughing today. He had his sense of hum ”

        “My understanding is that timing was of the essence, that everybody snapped to it,” Goin said, “and thank goodness there wasn't any waste of time because I don't know that he could afford to have any waste of time.” Huggins' wife June and daughter Jenna, a UC sophomore, caught a Saturday afternoon flight from Cincinnati to Pittsburgh and arrived at the medical center after Huggins' surgery. Huggins' parents, sisters and brothers also came to the hospital.

        “That's a tremendous comfort to him,” Goin said. “He's surrounded by the ones that he loves. I think he's responding well to that. That's very important to him.”

        Cindy Kranz contributed to this report.


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