‘Heart of a Lion’: Student Returns After Cardiac Surgery

In sports, you’ve surely heard the saying: “You gotta have heart!” 

This can be interpreted two ways. 

“Heart” is the passion and the grit to play a sport while persevering through any challenges relating to the score, the elements, or the underdog mentality. 

Really though, when thinking about sports, it’s so important that someone’s beating heart organ works properly in order to handle the physical exertion during competition. 

Bishop Loughlin H.S., Fort Greene, boys’ varsity lacrosse player Terence Hughes has plenty of heart on the field. Only a sophomore, Hughes has already grown into a leadership role on the team. 

Yet not too long ago, it was his physical heart that put his lacrosse career in jeopardy. 

Hughes, a native of Bedford-Stuyvesant, was born with a heart murmur. Growing up, he infrequently experienced some spasms in his chest, but since they only occurred every few months, it wasn’t considered a huge concern. 

That is until he reached the seventh grade. One day at Excellence Boys Charter School in Brooklyn, Hughes had just finished gym class and was walking back to his home classroom. 

All of a sudden, he felt extreme pain in his chest, which later was confirmed to be heart palpitations. The whole room began spinning, and he suddenly just dropped to the ground. 

“It was an agonizing pain in my chest that I could not stop,” said Hughes, who was a wrestler in middle school before taking up lacrosse in high school. “I was begging for my life because I literally thought I was going to die.” 

Hughes was able to calm down. At first, he felt embarrassed by the whole situation, but when his doctors chalked it up to a panic attack, he was skeptical. 

“I knew what I felt in my chest was real,” he said. “I never had panic attacks before. I didn’t buy it.” 

Upon arriving at Bishop Loughlin, Hughes joined the lacrosse team. He never played the sport before and learned about it by watching YouTube videos online. He played as a midfielder his freshman year and was excited for his new athletic opportunity. 

However, right after his first lacrosse season, things changed drastically. In late November, he and a few teammates were playing lacrosse in the schoolyard as the class bell rang. 

They quickly sprinted back into the building to make sure they weren’t late. Hughes though was a bit slower than his classmates. As he climbed the stairs, he noticed himself hunching toward the ground and eventually was lying on the steps. 

He doesn’t quite remember what happened next, except that a teacher found him and guided him to the nurse’s office. At this point, the heart palpitations started again. 

This time, he did all he could to contain the excruciating pain in his chest. An ambulance arrived and took him to the emergency room at The Brooklyn Hospital Center. 

He spent nine hours there, and most tests came back normal. His final test, though, revealed that there could be something wrong with his heart, so he was instructed to see a cardiologist. 

It was determined that Hughes’ heart was working twice as hard to pump blood to the rest of his body. His doctors were astounded that he had even been able to play lacrosse his first season. 

When told he needed open-heart surgery at just 14 years old, Hughes stayed strong, even though he knew there was a chance he would never play lacrosse again. 

“It was heart crushing,” he said. “This was my first team sport. Honestly, there were some points where I didn’t think I was going to survive. I was thinking maybe I would die before the surgery even happened.” 

Luckily for Hughes, he was linked up with the expert heart surgeons at Mount Sinai. The nine-hour procedure took place last February, and doctors told him he could return to contact sports in six months. 

Originally, just getting out of bed and walking down the hospital hallway seemed like insurmountable tasks. Day by day, though, Hughes started regaining strength. He eventually was able to pick up his lacrosse stick and throw the ball against a wall without pain. 

During his follow-up visit in August, he received confirmation that he was cleared for the fall lacrosse season. He immediately contacted his head coach, Nicholas Dilonardo, to share the amazing news. 

“If there’s any kid I know who had to deal with what he [Hughes] went through, he’s probably the only person I know who could handle it,” said Dilonardo, Bishop Loughlin’s lacrosse coach since 2019 and an English teacher at the school. “He carries himself in a very mature way.” 

Hughes eased back into action this season and overall is pleased with his progress. 

“After this season, I definitely feel that I’m getting back to where I want to be with the sport. It’s only up from here.” 

Hughes has shown he has heart in multiple ways. Going from barely being able to walk to playing lacrosse again takes a ton of heart. 

Now with his surgically repaired physical heart, he’s ready to fully display his heart of a Bishop Loughlin Lion on and off the field. 

2 thoughts on “‘Heart of a Lion’: Student Returns After Cardiac Surgery

  1. This is a testimony how God works in our favor. In Deuteronomy 31:6 it reads; be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

    In today’s society many young men would not have the strength or courage to get back up. When faced with challenges/test we tend to question his will. But to know there is a God who sits up high and looks down low, who watches over us and never forsakes us. We can do all things through Christ. It comes down to faith.

  2. Great story and so happy that Terrance Hughes is doing well. Stay strong Terrance.
    .My son Kevin is a Pediatric Cardiologist and the Medical Director of Heart Transplant at Boston Children’s Hospital. Proud of both of you guys.
    Kevin F Daly, 1961