Rutgers star thriving after missing year to fix heart defect
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Tyler Scaife went for a routine physical a few years ago that turned out to be anything but normal.
This was after her sophomore year and doctors detected a heart murmur. After further testing, it was discovered Rutgers’ star guard had a congenital heart defect. Scaife was shocked at the diagnosis.
“I said ‘I play basketball I can’t have a heart murmur,’” she recalled Wednesday after practice. “Then they did a lot of tests and it came back that I did.”
Scaife played her junior year and was closely monitored by the training staff. She put off surgery until after that season and redshirted last year.
“It wasn’t drastic, I could have waited, I decided that I want to go and get it over with,” she said. “That’s what I ended up doing. It wasn’t a life or death situation. It was something that eventually needed to be done and I thought why not get it done.”
The surgery corrected an atrial septal defect.
“When I tell people, it sounds very scary, but it wasn’t as scary as it seems,” she said. “It’s made me better endurancewise. I feel a lot better. I’m very happy that I did it.”
Scaife was helped through the ordeal by former teammate Briyona Canty, who had open-heart surgery when she played for the Scarlet Knights.
“She gave me a lot of advice on what I’d be feeling, how it would be,” Scaife said. “She kept it cool. It sounds bad but it’s not as bad as it seems. Bri was there for me the whole time through it. Anytime I had a question I could call her.”
Hall of Fame coach C. Vivian Stringer has always been impressed by Scaife on the court. But Stringer was inspired by how the 5-foot-9 guard dealt with this setback.
“I admire her,” Stringer said. “I don’t know if I can handle things as well as she did. I’m extremely proud of her. She handled a lot of stuff.”
Now Scaife is back and leading Rutgers, which has won five of its first seven games. She is averaging 19.1 points in just 25 minutes a game.
“I do feel a lot better. My energy is a lot higher,” Scaife said.
Mentally, it was tough for her last season, sitting and watching her teammates struggle to just six victories.
“I felt I could be out there to help them with things,” Scaife said. “At practice I took advantage to help a lot of the younger players.”
She also spent hours in the gym late at night working on her game.
“I didn’t play in games so I had a lot of energy,” she said.
Scaife hopes to eventually play in the WNBA or overseas, or both. But, for now, there’s a season to play that took a long way to reach.
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