UM student battles the odds against heart problems

Ryan Magee is a Wellness Center fanatic, frequenting the gym about five to seven times a week. He plays soccer and racquetball on Mondays and Wednesdays, takes Karate classes on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and runs bi-weekly cross-country journeys through Coral Gables.

Magee is 19 years old, 5’11”, 160 pounds, has brown hair and blue eyes. However, he is not your average teenager: his goal is to become a pediatric cardiologist.

Magee’s motive is personal.

“I want to know what’s wrong with me.”

On November 27, 1996, a day before Thanksgiving, Magee, then a 14-year-old high school freshman, was running through his daily afterschool routine, a regiment that included a cross-country trek of eight miles followed by a grueling four hour soccer practice.

During the seemingly normal soccer practice of fast-paced sprinting drills, Magee collapsed onto the ground.

During the 12 minutes when coaches and an on-site nurse gave him CPR, Magee’s heart had stopped pumping blood and had gone into ventricular fibrillation, a condition where the ventricles of the heart shake wildly.

Emergency medical technicians soon arrived. After shocking him twice with a defibrillator, technicians were able to get his heart pumping again.

After a two week coma, Magee was visited by a Catholic priest who performed the sacrament of the sick on him. He awoke from his coma the next day.

To this day, Magee is unable to remember the week before and a month after the accident. His mother told him that after awakening from the coma, he recalled, “I talked to god and the angels and they told me I wasn’t ready to go.”

Twenty days after the accident, Magee received an automated implantable cardio-defibrillator, an emergency device that acts as a defibrillator, pacemaker and EKG.

After his surgery and tests were completed, Magee returned to school in January 1997. By March, Magee found himself going against his doctor’s orders when he decided to start playing soccer again. Magee ultimately regretted this decision.

Two years later, in the first game of a fall soccer tournament, Magee went down again.

This time the implant kicked in, giving Magee an electrical shock that reset his heart’s pace.

“I had the electric taste in my mouth, it was just like licking a battery,” he remembers.

Despite arguing with emergency medical staff to let him stay in the game, Magee was forced to go to the hospital for testing once more.

After numerous screenings, Magee began reading his latest set of test results. At that moment, he realized his mission in life – to learn more about his condition and to help others with similar problems. Magee began to read medical books, researching the problem for which doctors still have no explanation for.

Magee is a sophomore majoring in pre-med bio-medical engineering.

Now considered a medical phenomenon, Magee attends an all-expense paid trip every year to the National Institute of Health in Washington, D.C. for tests.

Every year, doctors get the same results.

“No one knows what to do with me medically,” he said.

So he does what he wants.

“As long as I have this thing in my chest, I’ve got nine lives,” Magee said, pointing to the protruding implant in the upper left of his chest.

Everyone around him also notices his positive attitude.

“He takes everything lightly,” said friend Zach Carpenter.

This outlook, along with an “I’m not scared of dying” perspective on life (one that he has had since he was fourteen), makes his continuing commitment to medicine even more special.

“He’s always willing to help you,” said Carpenter. Not only is Magee’s love for life seen in his excessive physical activity, but also in his devotion to help others. During vacations, Magee spends his time working in hospitals at home in Cape Coral, FL. And when he’s not volunteering at hospitals, Magee spends his time chasing down answers in his medical books.

“I can’t help it, I’m always on the move…my initials are R.P.M.”

March 5, 2002


The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.