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Having the HEART to Compete

Having the HEART to Compete

After near-fatal cardiac arrest three years ago, Danville’s Justin Siller and his family have much to be thankful for

At 11 years old, Justin Siller was told it was no longer safe for him to play competitive sports. Siller’s parents, Jim and Diana Siller, learned when he was younger that their son had been born with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which causes thickening of the heart muscles. While playing for a travel basketball team, Siller went for his normal checkup and learned his heart muscle had thickened and he was told he would have to give up basketball.

“He was told he couldn’t overexert himself and couldn’t do things like lift free weights,” Jim Siller said.

At Danville Middle School, he competed in the long jump and high jump. He was cleared to play in a recreation baseball league as a seventh grader but his cardiologist said it would probably be best not to push it and give up baseball. Still, Siller thought nothing of doing some light warmup laps before physical education class as a Danville Community High School freshman on Sept. 12, 2014.

“It was nothing he hadn’t done many times before,” Jim said.

Except for this time, Siller collapsed from cardiac arrest on the second lap. Physical education teacher Maggie Rockwell and school nurse Kim Romanetz performed CPR and then used the AED (automated external defibrillator), which sends an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm. Danville basketball coach Brian Barber and Siller cleared a path for the emergency responders and made sure they got him quickly to Hendricks Regional Health. He then was taken by helicopter to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis.

“I don’t really remember much of anything from that day,”  Siller said. “It was a normal thing we did. I had never had issues or shortness of breath or felt I was behind everyone else.”

He was in the hospital for 12 days.

“Seven of those days was were spent in an induced coma,” Siller said. “Five days I was awake and I was coming off antibiotics and everything they were giving me to get better.”

“We’re very thankful for the community and the outpouring of support that they had for our family,”

His fellow students certainly helped Siller and his family cope.

“The support was insane,” Siller said.

With Siller being a fan of the University of Oregon, a classmate urged fellow students to show their support by wearing Oregon’s colors of green and yellow. Dozens did just that.

“We’re very thankful for the community and the outpouring of support that they had for our family,” his father said. “If I had a list of things to be thankful for, first that the school had invested in AEDs. We’re believers so we always say it’s a God thing that if it didn’t happen where it happened, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. There were so many things that had to be in place.”

Now three years later, Siller has found a way to stay involved in sports. First, he was cleared to play two minutes per quarter in the West Bridge Church basketball league in January. He plans to play again this winter. Then a special opportunity came up when Danville football coach K.C. Woods was asking a group of students if they intended to come out for football this season.

“I joked if he had coaching positions available, just messing around,” Siller said. “He said ‘I actually do. I need someone for play signaling.’ I jumped on board with it and I love it. It’s awesome. I feel like I’m part of the team. I love going to practice, which is kind of weird for any high schooler to say.”

Woods said the staff is very glad to have him a part of our program.

“He comes to practice every day to make sure he’s taking his role just as seriously as our players do,” Woods said. “He is an integral part of our success and frees up coaches to make sure they’re focusing on what’s going on on the field, and not on signaling. He is the type of kid that jumps in to help
with anything else that he can as well. Our guys love having him out there, as they are a tight-knit group, and know that he would be out there playing with them if he could. Being able to make sure that he’s out there with his friends and a part of our success is a privilege for me and my coaches.”

Siller tries not to dwell on that scary episode.

“Not everyone lives with that kind of situation or lives through that kind of situation,” Siller said. “I see everything as a great opportunity to go out and do anything and be alive. I count my blessings. I always try to.”

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