From the Heart: Kai Bates Diop

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Imagine receiving a call from your child’s school, informing you that your son, a perfectly healthy, top tier athlete, collapsed on the court during basketball practice.

That is the reality for one local family.

Kai Bates Diop was a player destined for success, with a brother in the NBA and him following in his footsteps this is something no one saw coming.

“I felt my heart beating very fast,” says, Kai Bates Diop.

“I got a call from Kai’s high school coach and he said Kai had collapsed and it didn’t look good, I didn’t know what was going on,” says Wilma Bates, Kai’s mother.

“Essentially Kai…Kai was dead for those three minutes. Um, he just, wasn’t there,” says Maddie Biehl.

It’s a day that’s ingrained in Kai’s memory.

Every detail from the color of his shirt, to the exact drill he was running before it happened.

“I started off doing shooting drills and then we transitioned into 3 on 2 drills that’s when it happened. I looked at one of my teammates and said my heart hurts and right when I said those words is when I collapsed.”

It was a whirlwind after that, between frantic phone calls.

“They had called an ambuelence and was working on him….I was a mess, I’ll be honest,” says Wilma Bates.

Panic-stricken attempts by the athletic trainers to save a life.

“I ran back to get the AED, called 911. He wasn’t moving,” says Emily Martz, who helped save his life.

While family rushed to get by his side.

“It was very painful not being able to get there earlier to get to him,” says Wilma.

Adding to the shock he was an otherwise healthy 16 year old… laying on the gym floor…without a heartbeat.

“I put my hand to my heart and said oh this is weird, I’m sure it’s something that’ll just pass by…I’m sure I’ll be fine, and of course once I woke up on the gym floor with all these people around me and all these things hooked up to my chest and my body that is when the fear started to set.”

While one athletic trainer administered CPR the other rushed to get the AED…thanks to their life saving efforts… Kai was revived.

“I then got another call saying that said that Kai had been revived and if I wanted to talk to him. I could hear a little bit of fear in his voice, he said yeah Mom I’m okay, but we didn’t know what was going on at that time. He had no signs, symptoms, never felt bad….a top tier athlete,” says Wilma.

He was taken by helicopter to OSF St. Francis medical center. After 6 days in the hospital Kai was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. Which the american heart association says is more common in young athletes than people might think.

“everyday in the hospital was a antsy feeling and nervous. Always anxious to hear whats next for me.”

According to the American Heart Association, the disease causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick — which makes it hard for the heart to pump blood — unfortunately most people have no signs or symptoms until going into cardiac arrest.

“you could die playing that sport. for me it’s still hard to wrap my head around it was just so unexpected.”

Kai can still play basketball, but to a certain extent.
He’s still on the basketball team at u high, he practices with them, helps guide their plays on game day; but has to sit out during full court drills and the games.

“I was nervous I was always in a state of realization like, this is really what I’m doing right now, I’m not coming to the games to play I’m coming to sit and watch and it’s something I had to accept its not something easy to accept being the person that I was with basketball.”

Being on the other side of the ball has given Kai a new outlook. If it weren’t for the AED Kai’s fate could have been different.

“For a while it was frustrating it was like a why me, that was the mindset and now it’s why not me. I’m able to help other people in ways I might not be able to do if I was still playing basketball. Every time I go to practice I think at least I’m still here today”

“from a bad situation we had the most positive things that could happen. Someone cared enough, someone was brave enough….it made all the difference in the world those seconds mattered,” says Wilma.

The AEDand the athletic trainers, Maddie Biehl and Emily Martz saved Kai’s life.
From that moment on Kai, his family and community knew they had to make sure every school has an AED machine.

“all the what if’s. what if U high didn’t have one, what if people didn’t do anything.” says Wilma.

“So from that point on we started raising money and trying to get schools to have AED so a kid like me can have the same outcome.”

Since that day “Kai 13” — a charity the family started — has raised enough money to help fund AED’s for 8 different schools.
That’s over 10 thousand 400 dollars.

“from the first day it happened I didn’t think I was ever going to get that far, I’m very proud of myself and I want to keep growing.”

“I tell him all the time he’s my hero, he does inspire me; because he’s done so much and he continues to do a lot he hasn’t let this limit him only by the definition that they’ve put on him not being able to play competitive basketball. But he does so much for other people and himself he does a lot for the people around him,” says Wilma.

Kai takes a pill every day to monitor his adrenaline, and will continue to the rest of his life.
Come fall time, he’ll be at Ohio State to study economics and minor in sports psychology to understand more of the mental aspect of game.

Saturday will mark two years since he collapsed on the court.

While many are celebrating December 31st at midnight, Kai considers February 9th his New Year, celebrating how far he’s come and setting new goals each time around.

Trisha Christakes

Trisha Christakes

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