Gubser Elementary School fifth grader Mehki China underwent open-heart surgery last summer and was cleared to return to the sports he loves last fall. (Submitted)

Gubser Elementary School fifth grader Mehki China underwent open-heart surgery last summer and was cleared to return to the sports he loves last fall. (Submitted)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Mehki China was practicing with his baseball team last spring when something started going wrong.

“I got panicked because it was hard to breathe and I started stumbling,” said Mehki, who was 10 years old at the time. He had been diagnosed with sports-induced asthma prior to this attack, but it didn’t take long for his mother, Brooke, to figure out something else was going on.

She was playing with her younger son when one of Mehki’s friends came to let her know something was wrong.

“I went outside and he was slumped against a wall. I tried to stand him up and get him to breathe through it, as he tried to stand up his eyes turned black and rolled up, then he passed out,” Brooke said.

Assuming it was an asthma attack, Brooke ran back inside and began yelling for someone to get an inhaler. Mehki’s had been left in the car that day.

She went back to check on Mehki and found him still unconscious on the ground, then back into the gym to find Andrew Copeland, one of the team’s coaches and a Keizer police officer, running across the gym with an inhaler.

“Mehki was still out and I thought, ‘How is this going to work if he’s not breathing?’” I went into terror all over again,” Brooke said.

Copeland opened Mehki’s mouth and sprayed the inhaler into it. He was about to begin CPR when Mehki began moving about 30 seconds later.

“The ambulance came and they checked him out. They offered to take him to the ER, but I wanted to take him to his doctor,” Brooke said.

Mehki’s doctor’s performed an EKG and things looked fine, but the family opted to pursue further testing. The hardest part for Mehki – a three-sport athlete in baseball, football and basketball – was his unquenched thirst for the competition sports bring.

“I’ve been playing since I was younger and I like everything about it. I didn’t like not being able to play. It’s all I wanted,” Mehki said.

A sonogram of Mehki’s heart revealed the problem.

“The left coronary artery is supposed to come from the aorta. His was coming from the pulmonary gland and cutting off the oxygen to his heart,” Brooke said.

The condition is a congenital heart defect that is usually caught in the first several months of a child’s life, but Mehki’s had gone undetected. It’s in the family of conditions that sometimes result in sudden athlete death.

Brooke said they could have left it untreated, but it would mean Mehki would likely never play sports competitively again.

“It was a question of the risk of surgery versus a better quality of life,” Brooke said.

Mehki went under the knife for open heart surgery in July 2014, but was back on the field six weeks later as an assistant football coach to Bill Klem.

He was cleared to play himself in November and started basketball in December.

“We’re not doing so great right now, but I really want to see our baseball team do good this summer,” Mehki said. The team took second in the state last year while Mehki was benched.

“Now he’s free and clear to do whatever he wants. He had no complications and was out of the hospital in four days. He was laid up for a really long time, but he can live the life that he wants,” Brooke said.