Like most 17-year-olds, Drew Marshall entered his senior year at Ozark a typical happy-go-lucky sort, with the details and risks associated with open heart surgery the furthest thing from his mind.
Practicing for his final seasons of basketball and baseball with the Tigers were most often what occupied his thoughts and time.
Now, more than halfway into his senior year and even after undergoing successful open heart surgery, Marshall still knows about as little as anyone could having gone through such an operation.
By his own choice, he didn’t want to know much about his infective endocarditis surgery to remove bacteria from his heart in late October.
“I’m not exactly sure how it all went down and I didn’t want to know,” Marshall said. “The doctors asked me if I wanted to know or if I just wanted them to (perform the surgery). I said, ‘Keep the details out, don’t get me scared.’
“I didn’t realize how bad it was until after they got done with all of it. Afterward, I asked one of the doctors, ‘How bad was it?’ He said, ‘It was pretty bad.’ They had to take my heart out and clean all the bacteria out. They keep you alive with a machine while they take your heart out. They didn’t tell me any of that before and I’m glad I didn’t know.”
Marshall also isn’t sure exactly how he got to the point in which his well-being was suddenly in jeopardy.
He had spent the summer and fall like others before, sharpening his skills on the hardwood. A 6-foot-3 center, he was primed for the quality playing time on the varsity level he’d worked for. But something was obviously wrong. Ozark coach Mark Schweitzer could sense so and Marshall feel as much.
“He’s always had a great work ethic and has never been one to miss practices,” Schweitzer said. “But he was working out and I felt bad because I was getting on him a little bit. I was asking him, ‘Why are you so out of shape? It looks like you’re laboring or something.’”
“We were running and I would get super tired. I figured, ‘Well, it’s off-season. I’m kind of out of shape,’” Marshall said. “Then, I got sick, so we went to a clinic and they said it might be the flu and to just stick it out.”
He continued to work out the best he could until he simply couldn’t.
“On a Saturday, my muscles gave out,” Marshall said. “It felt like the flu, but extreme. It hurt everywhere. It hurt just to move. There were periods of sweating and super cold. I was fluctuating up and down. It wasn’t fun. (Doctors in Springfield) checked me out and said, ‘Sunday morning, you’re flying to Kansas City.’”
Doctors determined an infection was at the root of Marshall’s declining health.
“Bacteria got in my blood, they think, maybe doing baseball season in the summer. They said to watch out for cuts, especially in baseball when sliding,” he said. “It could have been anything, though. They said it was a random draw. I won the bad lottery, I guess.
“The bacteria attacked my heart. My body never responded to medicine. So, they had to open me up.”
When basketball practices officially tipped off Oct. 29, Marshall had been hospitalized for a couple of weeks. In all, he was hospitalized for a month before and after his surgery, while in intensive care most of the time.
Many of his classmates and teammates didn’t know when he was first absent from school the seriousness of the situation.
“They were texting me and saying, ‘The last time I saw you, you said you just had the flu,’” Marshall said.
With the surgery a success, Marshall was able to return to the Tigers in time to be part of their team photo. It was a joyous reunion.
“I had a great welcome back when I came back,” he said. “Everyone was excited about me being here.”
Naturally, following such a surgery, Marshall’s road to a full recovery continues, as he regains strength and endurance every day.
“It was rough coming back. My first week back, I couldn’t really do anything,” he said. “You get tired so quickly. Walking 100 feet tires you out for a good 20 minutes. I’m not quite back, yet. I used to be able to dunk pretty well. That’s not there, yet. But it’s coming.”
Marshall has recently been able to start practicing and serve as a member of Ozark’s ‘Scout Team.’ More than anything, his character has shone bright. He’s made quite an impression on his coach and teammates by not dwelling on his missed opportunity to contribute to the Tigers on game nights.
“I can’t imagine someone telling me that for my senior year of basketball, I wouldn’t be able to make it to the court,” senior guard Parker Ramsdell said. “But he hasn’t brought any negativity. He’s come to the gym every day positive. He’s probably one of the few kids in the school who could have that kind of attitude after going through what he went through.”
“He would have been another post option for us, backing up A.J. (Elliott). Drew definitely would have helped us,” Schweitzer said. “You can focus on the negative side of it and think, ‘Man, it’s costing him his senior year of sports.’ But we’re just thankful that boy is alive. What a scary deal.
“He’s been a great teammate. He hasn’t been negative one bit and neither has his family. His dad said it best when he said, ‘I’m thankful he’s alive and I don’t care if he’s just sitting, I’m going to be at every game.’”
Marshall has enjoyed camaraderie with his teammates and is proud the Tigers are exceeding pre-season expectations while in contention of repeating as Central Ozark Conference champions.
“I’m disappointed to be losing minutes,” he said. “But everybody has stepped up and it’s so much fun being around the guys.”
“He’s another veteran in practice who knows what we need to do,” Ramsdell added. “The fact he had open-heart surgery and three months later is out here battling with us, it’s a great story.”
It’s a story that could get even better. With baseball season approaching, Marshall is hopeful of being able to make the same kind of contribution as an outfielder and pitcher that he has worked toward for years.
“There’s not as much endurance involved in baseball as basketball, it’s a lot about power,” Marshall said. “So, hopefully my recovery in baseball will be better than basketball. We’ve had 'bullpens' in the off-season the past month and I’ve felt good. The velocity is not quite there, yet. But it will get there.”
“Hopefully, he gets out on the diamond and has a great senior season,” Ramsdell said. “That would be awesome for him.”