Concussion a ‘blessing’ for Woodstock North student

WOODSTOCK – Diving out of bounds for a loose ball during a freshmen basketball game late last year, Zak Lampl smashed his head on the bleachers.

It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened to him.

“Absolutely. It was a blessing,” said his mom, Dina Lampl, of Woodstock. “I would have never even thought of having an EKG done for my son. He wasn’t showing me any kind of symptoms.”

An EKG, or electrocardiogram, revealed warning signs that prompted doctors to refer Lampl to a heart specialist. They soon got news that Zak Lampl, 15, had a 20-millimeter hole between the upper chambers of his heart known as an atrial septal defect, or ASD.

Things changed in a hurry for the Lampl family.

Zak Lampl, who goes to Woodstock North, sat out the rest of that game in December and went home with a headache. It persisted the next day at school, and toward the end of the day, he started feeling dizzy and light-headed.

Lampl went to see the school nurse, who checked his pupils and determined they weren’t responding correctly. Lampl was taken by ambulance to Centegra Hospital – Woodstock for a suspected concussion.

But in the ambulance and at the hospital, he received several EKGs that revealed a more serious issue – an irregularity in his heart.

“The doctor was completely frank and blunt with us, and said, ‘You know when athletes die on a field with no explanation?’ ” Dina Lampl recalled. “ ‘You need to go get this checked out. Something’s not right.’ ”

Follow-up tests revealed the issue.

Present at birth, ASD can create a deficiency of oxygen in the blood that causes fatigue and exercise intolerance. If it isn’t dealt with, ASD can eventually lead to a reduced life span, said Zak’s pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Michael Carr of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.

But the symptoms can be tough to detect, especially since patients have the defect from birth, and therefore don’t always recognize their lackluster stamina.

“There have been stellar athletes who have managed to overcome it and have done very well,” Carr said. “So you wonder what they would have done if they didn’t have the defects.”

The first cardiologist Lampl saw said his only option was open heart surgery, which requires about six months of recovery and can leave patients with lasting pain.

For Lampl, a three-sport athlete, that seemed like an eternity.

“It was quite depressing honestly,” he said. “It was really sad for me at first.”

But, while the large size made it more difficult, Carr saw an opportunity to repair the hole through a catheter procedure. The fact the hole was so close to the middle of the wall of the heart would simplify the procedure, he said.

Carr’s colleague performed the surgery April 16.

With the hole repaired, Lampl’s stamina has improved, and he’s not taking so many post-practice naps. He’ll have to see a cardiologist his whole life, but Carr said the less-invasive catheter procedure should set him up to live a healthy, active lifestyle.

By early this month, he was back at football practice and playing basketball. He’s playing summer baseball, too, and has continued training with the Wonder Lake Fire Department.

“I love all my sports,” Lampl said. “I knew that I would be out for quite awhile and I kept a positive attitude. The six weeks flew by for me. I was excited and got back into the swing of things.”