Take nothing for granted
Mark Wagner, a guard for the Panther basketball team, has been playing basketball
since he was 2 years old, shooting hoops with his big brother on the back porch
of their Cape Coral, Fla., home.
"I've always loved basketball," the first-year student says. "It's all I've ever
wanted to do."
But a freak medical condition almost put an end to his athletic career – and his
Going into his senior year of high school, Mark was riding high. His talent on
the court was getting noticed, and his team was poised to make a run for the state
In mid-September, he was scheduled to play in an exposure event in Tampa, giving
him the opportunity to show scouts and coaches what he could do.
"The night before I was supposed to play, I noticed a swelling on my right arm,"
he says. "I didn't think anything of it at the time, so I went and played eight
hours of basketball the next day."
When he returned home, his arm was much more swollen – so much so that Mark called
himself the Incredible Hulk. His father, who had been a professional tennis player,
looked at it.
"He told me I definitely had some swelling, and the worst-case scenario was that
I had a blood clot. But I've always been healthy, so I had no reason to think it
The father of his best friend, who lives down the street from the Wagners, is
an emergency room physician. He took one look at Mark's arm and decided to take
him to the hospital to run some tests.
The news wasn't good.
"You have to know this guy – he's pretty easy going and you never know when he
is kidding around. He came in and told me I had a blood clot on my right clavicle.
My friend and I started laughing, but he quickly said he was serious. That's when
it sunk in.
Everyone left the room, and I was in shock."
Doctors aren't sure what caused the clot, although they suspect it came from an
injury Mark sustained when he was born.
"I weighed 10 pounds, 9 ounces, so they had to break my collarbone to get me out.
They think when the collarbone healed, it formed a little knuckle that put pressure
on the vein."
Over the years, the pressure increased until a clot formed – all with no symptoms.
"I still can't believe I played eight hours of basketball that day," Mark says.
"I was very blessed because if that clot had dislodged and traveled to my heart,
I would have died."
But he still was facing an arduous round of surgeries and rehab after being transferred
to a hospital in Tampa.
"I had two surgeries in three days," Mark says. "They had to run a catheter up
my arm so they could break up the clot, then they had to go back in and remove
a rib to give the vein more space."
One doctor told him he'd never be able to play basketball again, while another
said he'd miss almost three-quarters of the season. Mark refused to believe them.
"Throughout this whole process, I kept thinking positively. I really think if
I had dwelled on the thought that I'd never play again, I wouldn't have healed
as quickly and I wouldn't be playing college basketball now."
In Tampa, Mark found a doctor who was familiar with athletes.
"In the past year, he had fixed a pitcher from the University of Tampa, a volleyball
player and a swimmer. I felt more comfortable with him because he's dealt with
But Mark surprised even his optimistic physician.
"After this kind of surgery, people are usually on pain medication for a week
or two. I was on it for two days. I wanted to do what I had to do to get through
this – to do what I used to do and be what I used to be."
When he went in for his first checkup a week after the final surgery, his doctor
was amazed that he wasn't feeling any pain. Another week went by and it was the
middle of October.
"I wasn't supposed to be finished with my rehab until January, but I had full
rotation of my arm. They took out the stitches. Everyone was calling it a miracle.
My doctor said he's never seen anyone recover so quickly."
By Nov. 1, the first day of basketball practice, Mark was on the court with his
"I was so lucky. Our team got to the Elite Eight, but unfortunately we lost. But
we did set a school record for wins. It was a really fun year."
Mark's experience taught him – and his teammates – a valuable lesson.
"I've learned not to take anything for granted," he says. "And always stay positive.
I'm generally never really upset or mad about anything anymore. Worse things could
happen – you could be lying in a hospital bed for a week instead of arguing about
whether a ball went out of bounds.
"Keeping focused on the positive is so important – people underestimate how that
really helps, in every part of our lives."