Uhart back on volleyball court after heart scare
Natalie Uhart, a 2003 Lansing High graduate and current student at the University of Kansas, returned to the volleyball court Wednesday night, Sept. 26, against No. 1 Nebraska after missing the previous 10 matches while receiving treatment for a congenital heart defect.
Uhart, a junior, last played on Aug. 31 during a match at Michigan State - Kansas' fourth match of the season - at the Spartan Invitational. Uhart had eight kills and five block assists through four games before falling ill and leaving the court in KU's 3-2 loss to MSU.
She was hospitalized in Lansing, Mi., where doctors determined that she had a congenital heart defect called a patent foramen ovale (PFO).
"A PFO is a hole in the septum of the heart, the membrane dividing the upper chambers of the heart," said Larry Magee, head team physician for Kansas Athletics. "Everyone has the hole before they are born. It usually closes at birth or soon after; for about 20 percent of the population, it doesn't. Most people who have a PFO have no symptoms or problems.
"A small percentage of people with a PFO will experience symptoms, usually made worse with intense exercise," Magee continued. "This is what happened with Natalie during the match at Michigan State. Based on Natalie's symptoms - i.e., dizziness, weakness - and to reduce the risk of future problems, the physicians she saw in consultation recommended that she have the PFO surgically closed."
Uhart followed that recommendation.
"I made the decision to have the surgery because I wanted to be able to play to my full potential during every match, without reservation," Uhart said in a statement issued by the athletics department.
She underwent the surgery on Sept. 12 at St. Luke's Hospital's cardiovascular clinic in Kansas City, Mo., and was released the next day.
The surgery was successful, Magee said, and shortly thereafter Uhart returned to practice.
"I am thrilled to get back onto the court and compete with my teammates," she said.
After a 10-match absence, Uhart was back in the lineup Wednesday night at Horejsi Center. The Cornhuskers defeated the Jayhawks, 30-18, 30-24, 30-18, but Uhart made her presence felt with seven kills, two digs and an ace.
"Uhart hasn't been out there for 10 matches and I thought she played extremely well with a lot of courage," KU coach Ray Bechard told the Lawrence Journal-World after the match. "She raises everybody's level because she's a great communicator, a great competitor and a great teammate."
Uhart is no stranger to volleyball roadblocks. The two-time Kansas Gatorade Player of the Year and leader of Lansing's 2002 state championship team ran into injury troubles during three seasons at Long Beach State. She played in just 19 games as a junior because of an injury, and she transferred to Kansas after LBSU coaches wouldn't help her obtain a medical-hardship waiver. With the help of KU coaches, Uhart gained that waiver.
Named the Big 12 Conference Preseason Newcomer of the Year for the 2006 season, Uhart tore her anterior cruciate ligament in a preseason scrimmage with KU alumni players. She received a rare second medical-hardship waiver, making her a fifth-year junior this season.
After this latest setback, Uhart said she is happy to be playing volleyball again and is focused on the future.
"I am excited about putting this all behind me," Uhart said. "There's nothing I want more than to help this team get back to the NCAA Tournament."
The Jayhawks have reached the NCAA Tournament three of the last four years.