By Alex Young, Point Park News Service:
Chris Gathagan, 59, of Akron, Ohio, sat at a circular lunch table surrounded by a group of seven sixth-through-eighth grade students who he advises. It was the day before the St. Edmund’s Academy students began their spring break, and the day of the annual faculty-staff versus student basketball game.
Gathagan, who most of the students and alumni know as “Coach,” shared stories with his advisees about his past playing in the game. He raised his hands and spread them apart as he read the old school newspaper headline from memory, “Gathagan scores 25,” he said.
Unfortunately, those nice memories come from his better days. Gathagan’s health took a turn for the worse in 2006 when his left knee felt like “it was on fire” every time he touched it due to blood clots.
In 38 years of teaching physical education, directing the athletics program, teaching math and coaching basketball at the Squirrel Hill Middle School, Gathagan has only missed three days of school. He doesn’t like to include the entire month of school that he missed back in ‘06.
Gathagan had an “easy childhood” growing up in Akron, Ohio, and he was “never sick.”
At the time of his clots, Gathagan suffered from shortness of breath and a burning knee. He had experienced pain from arthritis in his knees and he had knee pain from a old injury, but Gathagan knew the burning sensation in his knee was unrelated to either. Despite knowing something was off, Gathagan didn’t know exactly what was wrong with his body.
“I’m not afraid often, but the not knowing was the scariest part,” he said.
Luckily, Gathagan’s wife works in the medical field. When this pain in his knee began, Debbie Gathagan was an office manager at The Children’s Institute for Medical Services and Rehabilitation in Squirrel Hill. She knew he needed to go to the emergency room, but Gathagan was stubborn.
“I get that from my dad, the Gathagan side,” he said. Debbie gave her husband the option to “either go to the hospital or have your dance lessons at Arthur Murray,” he remembers. Gathagan isn’t fond of doctors, but the hospital “was better than dance lessons.”
So, he checked into West Penn Hospital where doctors told Gathagan that he had blood clots. The clots had formed in his left calf and up his left thigh. From there the clots travelled throughout his body. Gathagan said that he considers himself lucky because his clots traveled to his lungs instead of his brain or heart.
By the time Gathagan was in West Penn’s Emergency Room, he only had 60 percent usage in one lung.
“Pretty much, I was lucky I was alive,” he said.
Although Gathagan felt better and was out of the hospital in three days, doctors made him miss a month of work because of the blood thinning medication they prescribed him.
“They didn’t want me to faint and bleed out around the kids,” Gathagan said.
To this day, Gathagan does not know how his blood clots formed. The condition was not hereditary for him.
“Some might say it was because of my weight,” he said. This doesn’t bother him and he is still in the habit of drinking three Pepsi sodas per day.
While there is no change in Gathagan’s lifestyle, stubbornness included, he is grateful most of all for his wife, because without her, he said, “I wouldn’t have gone to the E.R, on my own. They would have had to scrape me off the floor.”
This piece is part of a project on Apocalyptic writing. It will be featured in a print magazine that will be presented at the 8th Annual Undergraduate Research Symposium on Friday, April 21, 2017 in the Center for Media Innovation on Point Park University’s campus.