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Montague junior has season cut short due to open heart surgery

Conner Raeth set to have surgery on March 1st
Montague junior Conner Raeth
Posted at 10:36 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 22:58:05-05

MONTAGUE, Mich. — Conner Raeth knew growing up that he wouldn't be able to play full contact sports like hockey and football to a heart condition.

Since then, he's grown a love for the sport of basketball and said his goal was to make the varsity team in high school.

Now, as a junior, he's accomplished that but his season is now over as he gets set for open heart surgery.

High school junior prepares for open heart surgery

Conner's parents, Brent and Kara Raeth, remember the tragic day over 15 years ago when they didn't know if their one-year-old son would make it.

"Conner was just a great energy little boy until about 13 or 14 months," his father, Brent explained, "I had turned around and he had quit breathing, he had turned blue and was having a seizure in the backseat."

An emergency trip to the hospital had indicated just how serious his heart condition was as Conner underwent emergency surgery.

"I had a major surgery to remove the coarctation of my aorta, a large vessel in your heart," Conner explained.

One-year-old Conner Raeth after surgery
One-year-old Conner Raeth after surgery following the discovery of a heart condition.

Conner's father calls it "a miracle" that doctors were able to identify his heart condition when they did.

"They don't usually catch this in 14 month old kids," Brent Raeth added, "it's usually in the first few days and if they don't catch it, they will later when you're a teenager and you pass out on the court and don't wake up."

Conner has known throughout his life that he would one day need open heart surgery but didn't know when, until a call in early February after an MRI.

"My dad said, 'we need to talk,'" Conner recalled the night after basketball practice two weeks ago, "I sat on the couch and he said the doctor had called and that I'll need open heart surgery and I can't play basketball."

After fulfilling his dream of making the varsity basketball team, Raeth was getting set for his first game just four days later. Suddenly, the season that was about to start, was over.

Montague junior Conner Raeth
Montague junior Conner Raeth during basketball practice on February 15.

"That was the hardest part, to be honest with you," Brent Raeth admitted, "to have stuff get ready to kick back off and get his knees cut out from under him, it was like, 'hey your season is done man.'"

While he can still do non-contact and shooting drills right now leading up to the surgery, he won't be able to play in any games.

Conner's mother, Kara says the timing is the worst part.

"I always knew he was going to be okay with the surgery but the basketball is the hardest part, it's just the timing," she added.

Conner's surgery will take place on March 1st but he's staying positive and is ready to take it on.

"It's in the doctors hands," Conner said, "it's not something I can control. I know they'll do a good job and this will help me in the future, it'll all be for the better."

Conner Raeth ahead of January's MRI
Conner Raeth at the hospital in January awaiting an MRI that would eventually reveal the need for open heart surgery.

While the postponement of winter sports was frustrating, Conner's family is now calling it a blessing in disguise. After all, they're well aware of what could have happened with his condition.

"I think had the season started normally, the expansion of the artery could have happened more progressively because he was working harder," his mother added. "He may have had something happen during a game where he may not have come back from it, you think about that and maybe the shutdown was a blessing."

And Conner admits he's very familiar with some consequences of what he has, which is why he's ready for his operation.

"A layer of your heart artery gets ruptured and blood gets in there and it has a 20 percent mortality rate to it," he explained, "that could have happened and me not know it and I could have not woken up the next day. So yes, it is a blessing in disguise, I don't have to worry about it anymore."

Conner Raeth
Montague junior Conner Raeth gets shots up during basketball practice on February 15.

Brent Raeth says not only was the first time discovery of the heart condition a miracle when Conner was one-year-old, but this discovery was as well.

"They don't usually catch this a second time, so somebody is looking out for us," Brent smiled.

Tthe good news is doctors have indicated Conner will make a full recovery after his March 1st surgery and they expect him to be ready for cross country as a senior next fall.