If Corey Clark had a problem on the field or in the gym, it was having too much heart.
Clark, an 18-year-old senior linebacker for Gainesville High School, endured three heart operations last year and overcame some trepidation to return to the gridiron this season.
"I was pretty much determined to play," he said.
Clark was the team’s leading tackler this season until a minor leg injury forced him to sit out a game. But he’s been a leader in other ways, his coach, Bruce Miller, said.
"He adds a lot to the team with his attitude," Miller said.
In September 2006, Clark was working out at the high school gym on a contraption called the "Vertimax." It consists of elastic cords attached by a pulley system to a platform that creates resistance for improving leg power.
His heart rate shot up to 275 beats per minute. He grew pale, dizzy and passed out.
A trip to the hospital and an electrocardiogram test revealed Clark had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. In simplified terms, people with the syndrome have an accessory pathway to the heart that increases its electrical activity, and as a result, accelerates the heart rate. In the worst cases, the syndrome can lead to cardiac arrest and death.
Clark spent the next month in and out of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, where he had three separate procedures to destroy the excess heart tissue. The procedures involved radio frequencies sent through a catheter that snaked through the main artery in his lower abdomen and into his chest. The first two tries weren’t successful.
"It was pretty scary," Clark said. "I didn’t want to admit it, either."
The recovery time was tough. Clark said the support of his family — including an older brother who came home from college — his teachers and his friends helped him through.
All told, it was four months before Clark could exert himself much at all.
"When I got back, I was real weak, real out of shape," he said. "I didn’t want to get back in the weight room. It took a while."
But after missing most of his junior season with the ailment and sitting out the previous season with a broken bone in his hand, Clark was determined to get some playing time his senior year.
"It motivated me a lot because I missed so much time," he said. "I wanted to get back out there."
In theory, Clark’s condition no longer exists if the last procedure, performed in October 2006, was successful. Still, Miller had Clark undergo a battery of tests to be medically cleared to play.
The coach credits not just Clark, but Clark’s parents, Harold and Audrey, for standing behind their son and his decision to return to football after the health scare.
Miller says he’s not surprised Clark made it back.
"I knew with his resiliency and with his never-quit attitude, if there was any way possible for him to get back he would do it."
Miller pointed to the story of Johnson football player Cody Tatum, who returned to playing after battling cancer.
"I think this is another illustration of fighting back and not staying down," Miller said. "And for fulfilling some dreams, playing some high school sports.
"I think one of the worst things is to look back and have regrets."