Heart of a champion

By Ben Stroup

May 8, 2014


It’s referenced in sports almost as much as hits, touchdowns and goals. literally, it’s a vital part of everyone. Figuratively, though, emotionally even, heart is an invaluable asset when it comes to competing.

Perhaps no athlete in Central Ohio knows more about both aspects than Hayes senior softball standout Chandler Fields. Physically, after three open-heart surgeries, her heart might not be as strong as the athletes she takes the field with. Emblematically speaking, though, no one has more of it.

“Chandler is an awesome person,” Hayes coach Mark Thomas said. “And she’s an awesome ball player. She’s worked hard to get where she is and is an inspiration to the entire Delaware Hayes softball program.”

“All her life, Chandler has dealt with so many adversities,” her mother Stacey said. “She has tests each year, some are more invasive than others, and she handles each one with a great deal of tolerance and patience.”

One thing she doesn’t tolerate, though, is just sitting around and watching others have all the fun … something doctors told her she would have to get used to as a heart patient.

Four months after her third surgery, during her freshman year at Hayes, Fields tried out for the Lady Pacer softball team. After two games as a JV player, she proved herself during a three-way varsity showdown against North Union and Mt. Gilead.

“She thought she was going to just sit and watch, but was pulled in to hit,” Stacey Fields said, “and she singled up the middle to drive in a run. The second game that day, she was surprised and got the start as the first baseman. She was then told by the coaches that she was to stay on the varsity team.”

Which is where Fields has been ever since.

Fields, who recently committed to play softball at Wilmington College, has had a host of highlights during her career - one of which came just six months after her third surgery.

Penciled in as the designated hitter in a Division I Central District championship game in Pickerington, with her team in a 6-0 hole against top-seeded Gahanna, Fields sparked her squad with a solo home run. The blast lit a fire under the Pacers, who rallied to within a single run of the eventual district champs.

“The crowd went crazy,” Stacey Fields said. “That (homer) started the rally and, although they fell short, 7-6, it was such an exciting, nail-biting game. It was like the team woke up.”

Her sophomore year, while successful on the softball field, included another health scare as she was diagnosed with endocarditis, a heart infection, following improper dosage of an antibiotic prior to a dental check up. Fortunately for Fields, it was caught early enough to avoid another surgery.

Remarkably, she played for an entire month with a heart infection she didn’t know about … and still managed to have a batting average of .414 for the season. She received Honorable Mention All-League honors.

Fields and the Pacers have been steady each of the last two seasons, too. The team made it all the way to another district championship last spring, and while Hayes fell 8-6 to Pickerington Central in extra innings, Fields and company are on track to get to yet another district title game, maybe even beyond, this time around. The Pacers are 20-1 overall and perfect in league play. They wrapped up the OCC-Capital Division championship Tuesday with a 6-0 win over New Albany.

The final chapter of this season’s story is yet to be written, but no matter what happens on the softball field, the fact Fields is even taking the field is worth celebrating.

She was born May 25, 1995 - an eight-pound, 11-ounce baby seemingly just like the others in the St. Ann’s Hospital nursery. Within an hour, though, it was discovered she had a life-threatening heart defect.

She was transported to Children’s Hospital where, at less than two days old, Fields had her first surgery. Her heart, which has been enlarged since birth, was stopped for 30 minutes so the surgeons could treat what was diagnosed as a twisted pulmonary valve.

They placed a three millimeter shunt/stent the first time around, which was later replaced by a Gortex Patch during her second surgery. She was just nine months old when she went under the knife for the second time.

As mentioned, cardiothoracic surgeons told her parents she would be the kid who couldn’t play on the playground, but would be forced to sit and watch others play. Her outlook improved shortly after that, though, and the doctors changed their tune.

“Her cardiologist at the time, Dr. Jo Craenen, told us not to treat her like she couldn’t do anything, but to allow her to do what she can do - run, skip, climb - and that she will slow down when she can’t do it anymore,” Stacey Fields said. “And that’s what we did. Chandler played soccer and basketball up to about 10 years of age until her age group had to move up to a regular field/court, then she stopped playing those sports because they involved too much running.”

That’s when softball slid into the picture. It was certainly a competitive sport, but one that didn’t require a ton of running.

She made her seventh-grade team at Dempsey Middle School and got hooked on travel softball during the summer months, never practicing or playing without her Evoshield heart guard strapped firmly to her chest.

Her third surgery came during her freshman year at Hayes, when she was told it was time to replace her patch with a 25mm bovine valve. She also had a procedure to place a mesh wire over a small hole in her heart.

Now, always looking ahead instead of back, Fields plans to major in Business Administration - a career which would allow her to give back to the medical field by talking to parents and children about her experiences to help ease the fear that comes with dealing with something as serious as a heart defect.