Editorial: Tuesday mix on cardiomyopathy, heroic rabbi, Christmas trees

  • Jaylen Brantley, seen here Nov.21 at the Mullins Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, has been advised to stop playing basketball because he was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 12/4/2017 7:42:22 PM

A basketball player from Springfield whose career was derailed at the University of Massachusetts Amherst by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy wants to raise awareness so other athletes aren’t at risk of dying from cardiac arrest.

Jaylen Brantley, 24, had planned to spend this season as a Minuteman guard after transferring from Maryland. That plan was set aside after Brantley had an electrocardiogram in October, which UMass requires of all incoming athletes to check for signs of heart disease.

After Brantley’s EKG fell outside the normal range, he had an MRI and met with a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston who confirmed the diagnosis. People with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy have a large, thickened heart muscle.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, “the thickened heart muscle is so large that it decreases the cavity size of the heart, which means the heart holds and pumps less blood. The thickened muscle can also cause obstruction to the flow of blood as it is pumped out of the heart. … When the muscle gets large enough, it functions poorly, and can start to quiver in ventricular fibrillation, which is the cause of sudden death.”

The severity of the disease is determined by the thickness of the heart wall, and Brantley’s case appears relatively mild. However, he is at risk of cardiac arrest if his heart rates exceeds a certain point that likely would be reached during competition. Otherwise, his day-to-day life is not affected.

Still, the shock of suddenly being told to stop playing the sport he loves is tough for Brantley. “It’s the craziest thing ever. I can do everything. I can run. I can jump. I just can’t play basketball. It’s devastating.”

Brantley, who is studying for a master’s degree in counseling and serving as a student assistant coach at UMass, wants to use his experience as an example for other college athletes.

“There’s no symptoms. I didn’t feel sick. My heart wasn’t hurt. I never passed out. You never know,” he says. “I definitely want to be an advocate for the disease I’m going through. There’s a lot of kids in college athletics who don’t know they have it. … Every university in America should do EKGs. You never know what can happen. I’m just trying to turn the whole situation into a big positive.”

We’re sorry that Brantley never got to play as a Minuteman. We applaud his new mission that is bigger than basketball.

* * * 

Rabbi Justin David of Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton did some soul-searching earlier this year before deciding that the message he was helping send about social justice was worth the risk of arrest.

David was arrested twice during 2017: in New York City during February while protesting President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from six predominantly Muslim nations, and in Springfield during October while demanding a stay of deportation for an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala.

Those actions earned David a Rabbinic Human Rights Hero Award from T’ruah, a network of 1,800 rabbis and cantors from all branches of Judaism who aim to protect and expand human rights in North America, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

David will return to New York City next May to accept the award. He credits support from his synagogue. “I derive so much of my strength and wisdom from the community.”

Kudos to David for acting on his commitment to social justice, and to Congregation B’nai Israel for standing with him.

* * * 

This is the final month for a Hilltown tradition: harvesting Christmas trees at Clearview Farm owned by Bill and Jane Adams on Dodwells Road in Cummington. They started the Christmas tree farm 27 years ago upon his retirement from the U.S. Navy as a captain, after a 26-year career working as an aircraft maintenance officer.

“It was clearly a labor of love,” Bill says of their farming operation on 87 acres that has been in  Jane’s family since 1864. To mark its end, the Adamses are having a special sale of you-cut  trees through Christmas Eve or the first snowfall, whichever comes first. Proceeds benefit the Village Church of Cummington.

After they helped bring the joy of the holiday season into the homes of so many people, we wish Bill and Jane Adams safe travels and happy times with grandchildren during their retirement.

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