Orem football player Ben Smith on the road to recovery after heart surgery

Published: Tuesday, May 21 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

A doctor holds a stethoscope. Orem High School sophomore Ben Smith collapsed during practice and underwent heart surgery. He is now recovering. (Shutterstock) A doctor holds a stethoscope. Orem High School sophomore Ben Smith collapsed during practice and underwent heart surgery. He is now recovering. (Shutterstock)

OREM — Less than a week after Orem sophomore football player Ben Smith collapsed and nearly lost his life during a conditioning practice, the road to recovery appears to be in full bloom.

Doctors operated on Smith’s underlying heart condition Monday and after a positive prognosis they plan to release him from Utah Valley Regional Medical Center either Wednesday or Thursday.

“I went down to visit him (Monday) after the surgery and he was talking,” Orem coach Tyler Anderson said. “They had him up walking and his brother came to school today and said he was doing great. … He was still groggy from all the stuff he’s been on but he knew who everybody was. It was good to see him talking and doing well.”

Smith collapsed during a 200-meter sprint during an offseason conditioning practice on Thursday. Originally Anderson and the Tigers’ coaching staff feared dehydration, but after Smith lost consciousness it became evident that he required medical attention. Until the arrival of the ambulance, Anderson administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which doctors say saved the 16-year-old’s life.

“It was a tough few days — Thursday night and Friday. You always hear about it happening but you never expect it to happen to you,” Anderson said. “It was definitely a very scary situation Thursday when it all went down. Going down to the hospital not knowing what to expect, whether he was going to make it or not. When we got to the hospital and they said he was breathing on his own and his heart was beating on its own, that was a huge relief.

“I remember looking over and they were gathered in their little group, there were probably 60 of them there, but they were all kneeling down,” Anderson continued. “They were saying a prayer for him. There’s been a lot of players to go down and visit him. That Thursday I’m sure was rough for everybody.”

Doctors will conduct further tests to determine if Smith is able to participate in the 2013 football season.

“The doctors seem to think that if everything goes well he could play this season,” Anderson said. “They said they’ll bring him back in a month and put him on the treadmill and get his heart going and see if everything went well with their procedure. If everything works well, then he’ll be cleared to play.”

Football aside, Anderson is relieved that the traumatic incident appears to be behind them and is looking forward to growing stronger from it.

“Obviously it’ll always be a life-changing event for me and for Ben,” Anderson said. “I think our kids will be able to gain strength from this and seeing Ben recover. I think we’ll be able to rally around. It’ll bring our team closer together, and I think we’ll be able to move forward and have this be a positive situation for everybody.”

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