ST. LOUIS – Evan Fink is thrilled to be mentioned in the same sentence as Olympic gold medalist Shaun White. However, the comparisons have nothing to do with snowboarding.
“I was always one of the worst when it comes to conditioning and sprints and running," said the Waterloo teen.
Like White, Fink was born with Tetralogy of Fallot, a heart defect that causes oxygenated and un-oxygenated blood to mix.
Although Evan had surgery to help the condition as a 6-month-old, doctors told his family that playing sports likely wouldn't be an option.
“We were told very early on that he should not participate in a lot of sports," said Michelle Fink, Evan's mother.
But as Evan grew, so did his love for sports. He's played baseball, soccer and track, and now his focus has turned to wrestling and football.
“There’s only so much I can do. I don’t have money or a car, So sports just keeps me occupied and it’s a way for me to have fun," said Evan.
Fortunately, just like White has excelled towards three Olympic medals, Evan has soared into high school sports because medical guidelines on how to approach clearing kids with congenital heart defects for physical activities has drastically changed in recent years.
“These days we recognize that a healthy, active lifestyle is important for everybody, including kids with pre-existing heart disease," said Dr. George Van Hare, the Co-Director of St. Louis Children's and Washington University Heart Center and a Pediatric Cardiologist.
“Most kids with serious heart disease can be involved with some types of sports and some kids, like Evan, can be involved in everything," he said.
Michelle could see the positive effects of her son's active lifestyle a long time ago.
“The more he’s active the stronger he seems, the less that he’s holding himself back. The less that he’s out of breath or he’s tired.”
Of course such observations may seem silly, but it wasn't long ago when doctors were very apprehensive to allow children with heart defects to enjoy sports activities at a high intensity in fear of serious health problems.
For Evan, the only problems seem to be which practice to head to next.
“All my friends just treat me like a normal person. A normal athlete. I’m just like them," he said.
Evan will likely need one more surgery in the near future, but with cardiologist approval, plans to play sports as long as possible.
“Don’t be scared of something bad happening," said Evan. Just trust your doctor. If your doctor says you can play whatever you want, play whatever you want.”
“We’re pretty proud of the fact he puts in as much effort as he does, and he has a strong sense of character, which is awesome," said Michelle.
If your child has a congenital heart defect it is still highly recommended to get approval from your cardiologist before allowing him or her to play sports as each individual's case depends on the current state of the heart and repair.