Published February 15. 2013 4:00AM
It is called viral myrocarditis, a potentially fatal infection of the heart.
It nearly killed Allan Chaney.
It certainly was the reason a cardiologist who once worked on the late Reggie Lewis, told Chaney, the former whiz kid at New London High, that he'd never play college basketball again.
This is the same Allan Chaney whose mug was smiling back at you from the recent pages of Sports Illustrated, a proud face in the crowd.
Turns out Chaney, who admits to summoning his inner Whaler for inspiration, is playing again. Fittingly, he's at High Point, a Division I school just west of Greensboro, N.C. High Point. Perfect. Nothing could explain Chaney's perch any better.
"I never really believed it when they told me I'd never play again," Chaney was saying by phone earlier this week.
Chaney's last three years are fodder for a movie. Or at least the best example of the late Jim Valvano's counsel:
Don't give up.
Don't ever give up.
Chaney was participating in an offseason workout in April, 2010, at Virginia Tech. He transferred there from Florida, after what he perceived as Billy Donovan's promises not living up to his delivery. Chaney was in Blacksburg shooting a free throw when he collapsed.
Original diagnosis: Dehydration.
But after what felt like years' worth of tests, Chaney learned a month later he had viral myrocarditis, which, among other issues, causes inflammation. By August of that year, though, he was feeling better. So he went to the YMCA in Baltimore, where he was raised before graduating from New London.
He remembers catching a lob for a dunk.
Then he passed out again.
"That's when I knew something was wrong," Chaney said.
So the family flew to Boston and met with Dr. Mark Estes, a cardiologist from Tufts Medical Center, one of the doctors who worked on Lewis, the former Celtics great who died of a heart disorder July 27, 1993. Estes told Chaney he'd never play again.
"I thought about how long I'd stuck with it and everything I'd gone through,' Chaney said. "I had to keep pushing."
The answer: a defibrillator.
To that point, all Chaney and his family knew about the word "defibrillator" was that it was heart related, maybe the size of an old school telephone and a frequent sight in public places. It is an electrical device used to counteract fibrillation of the heart muscle and restore normal heartbeat by applying a brief electric shock.
But walk around with a telephone under one's chest?
That's when Dr. Francis Marchlinski at the University of Pennsylvania told the family about a wireless defibrillator in its infancy. It was installed inside Allan Chaney in Nov. 2011.
Chaney started thinking basketball again.
Problem: Doctors detected irregular heartbeats. And last March, they cut into Chaney's chest for more surgery, cracking it open.
Chaney was relieved to hear the surgery was successful. He was even happier to learn the recovery period was three months, which felt like a Sunday afternoon after three years of nothing.
Few schools would take a chance.
Until Ahmad Dorsett, an assistant coach at High Point, remembered Chaney from Baltimore. Dorsett's phone call led to a campus visit and High Point's physicians clearing him.
A basketball player was born again.
And now Allan Chaney is averaging 14 points and eight rebounds per game.
"I have so many people to thank," he said. "My family first. Then Seth Greenberg (Chaney's coach at Virginia Tech) got in touch for (former NBA forward) Juwan Howard, who also had the disease. He was willing to do anything to help. He kept me going with positive information. Plus, I knew how good I could be."
Chaney credits that to his days at New London. He's one of coach Craig Parker's all-time favorites. To this day, Chaney is the bravest soul ever to wear the uniform. After New London won the 2008 ECC title over NFA- before the biggest crowd in the history of Conway Gym - Chaney risked life and limb to rub the top of Parker's head as the official photo of the brand new ECC champs was taken.
"New London instilled in me something about winning," Chaney said. "Find a way, no matter what. Coach Parker drilled that in us. He gave me the confidence I never had because I was always overshadowed by somebody in Baltimore. I owe him a lot."
Chaney was asked if he used "find a way, no matter what" as inspiration during three years of idle time and two bouts with death.
"It's a tribute to New London," he said.
So now the only Division I player in the country using a defibrillator isn't doubting his next breath. More like pursuing the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers have won five straight and are 9-3 in the Big South.
And if it isn't this year, it'll be next. Chaney said the NCAA has granted him a sixth season of eligibility. He plans to return to High Point to play basketball and pursue his Master's Degree in Nonprofit Management.
"Things are really good," Allan Chaney said. "I'm blessed."
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.