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Stroke saves Kramer’s career

Doug Kramer

MANILA, Philippines – Nine-year PBA veteran Doug Kramer said yesterday a mild stroke he suffered during a gym workout last month saved him from a life-threatening situation and with God’s grace, the 6-5 power forward hopes to be back in action with new team Phoenix for the Commissioner’s Cup next year.

Kramer, 33, said he never expected to be stricken at the prime of his life. It happened at about 10:30 a.m. last Oct. 10 while he bench-pressed in the gym on the third floor of his home. “I was loading up for the coming season, hitting the weights three to four times a week,” he said. “After doing a set, I got dizzy. I began to sweat profusely and in a few seconds, I was drenched. I tried to stand up but couldn’t. I was wobbly. For about 10 to 15 minutes, I threw up everything in my stomach while lying down. I didn’t know what was happening. I felt a little better after vomiting then went straight to Medical City.”

Kramer underwent a series of tests at the hospital where he was confined for six days, initially in the ICU. An MRI revealed a tiny clot in his brain and a 2D Echocardiography showed a miniscule congenital hole in his heart. Cardiologist Dr. Agapito Fortuno and neurologist Dr. Edmundo Saniel concurred that he suffered a mild stroke triggered by a malfunction of the heart. If left undetected, the heart issue could’ve led to a serious problem.

Kramer said he went through a minor procedure called a PFO Closure to seal the hole with two implanted plates inserted through a catheter from the groin to the heart. Before the procedure, doctors put in a micro-camera through his throat to locate the precise position of the hole. “If this was 15 years ago, it would’ve been open heart surgery but now, with modern technology, it’s just a minor procedure,” said Kramer. “Apparently, this problem is quite common and one of every four has it but it’s symptomatic, meaning it’s treated only if there are symptoms. Luckily, I never passed out or fainted when I had my episode.”

Another PBA player Frank Golla had the same heart issue. He collapsed, underwent the same PFO Closure and is now playing with TNT in the PBA. NBA star Pete Maravich wasn’t as lucky. He averaged 24.2 points in 658 games over 10 NBA regular seasons from 1970-71 to 1979-80 then at the age of 40 in 1988, suffered a fatal heart attack playing in a pick-up game. Maravich’s heart problem was never diagnosed. Hank Gathers also died of a heart attack playing for Loyola Marymount at the age of 23 in 1990. Gathers was one of only three players ever to lead the NCAA Division I in scoring and rebounding – the others were Xavier McDaniel and Kurt Thomas. A 2D echocardiography would’ve shown cardiac defects in Maravich and Gathers and led to treatment which could’ve averted their death.

Kramer said when he went down, his first thought was the future of his wife Cheska and their three children Kendra, 7, Scarlett, 4 and Gavin, 3. “I cried,” he said. “I never expected this to happen. I have no vices. I exercise regularly. I keep in shape. I was concerned for my kids. Now, I realize the importance of getting yourself tested. God protected me from something worse. I wouldn’t have found out about the hole in my heart if I didn’t get the stroke.”

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Kramer said he plans to confer with PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa on the possibility of expanding the annual medical checkups of players to include a 2D echocardiography. “I think it would help and I hope to make it my advocacy,” he said. “A 2D echo will reveal defects like an enlarged heart which Gilbert Bulawan had. God is good definitely. There’s a higher purpose to what happened to me. I hope more players and people can be made aware. God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.”

Kramer said full recovery will take up to five or six months. Four days ago, he got on a stationary bike in his first exercise since surgery. So far, he’s not allowed to jog but slowly, he’s doing core work like push-ups. By mid-January, he should be cleared to go one-on-one to retool his skills. A month later, he’ll start five-on-five games. “In the first few weeks after my procedure, I rested and regained strength,” he said. “Right now, I attend practice and mentor some of our young bigs like Norbert Torres, Michael Miranda and Prince Caperal. I think Phoenix will overachieve this season. Guys are working hard, they’re playing together, taking extra shots before and after each practice and doing full-intense workouts for 2 1/2 to three hours a day. We’ve got a great group of guys and we all want to win.”

Kramer said he’s excited to get back on the court. “When I return, I’ll focus on rebounding and defense,” he said. “I’ve always been known as a scrapper. I won’t take a step back. I’ve played on only one championship team with San Miguel Beer but I also went to the Finals with Powerade and Air21. I remember leading the league in double-doubles with Powerade and that wasn’t too long ago. God works in mysterious ways and I’m excited to glorify Him with my second chance as a basketball player.”

Kramer said playing in his 10th season is a dream come true. “When (Ateneo teammate) J. C. (Intal) and I were drafted in 2007, we told ourselves if we last 10 years in the PBA, it would be a blessing,” he said. “Now, here we are, teammates again. I’m grateful to Phoenix for this opportunity. Phoenix knew about my heart condition before the trade but went ahead anyway. I’m also thankful to GlobalPort for giving me the chance to play last season. This wouldn’t be happening in my life if not for God. It is for Him that I live my life.”

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