Softball player sits out season with WPW

by Jon Whitworth

Bethany Belcher, 17, watches the Panthers softball team play as she looks on from the dugout. If it were a couple weeks ago, she would be standing in the infield playing shortstop. Instead, she must sit on the bench and play the sport vicariously through her teammates. Belcher has played softball for as long as she was able to and now her ability to continue playing may be in jeopardy.  While the sound of bats cracking and girls’ chatter travel through the air, Belcher sits helplessly wanting to join them, but cannot because of something she is unable to control: her health.

Belcher plays softball for the Cleveland High School Panthers located in Cleveland, Alabama. As of right now, doctors will not clear her to play sports. Belcher went to see a doctor because she is the victim of frequent panic attacks and restlessness. She sometimes feels her heart pounding in her chest. A visit to a physician left Belcher unable to pass a sports physical because her heart rate was too high. It was around 140. As of right now, doctors are unclear about what is wrong with Belcher and will not allow her to play until they find out. Belcher was told she may have Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome—a certain heart disorder that runs in her family. Her uncle and cousin both have it.

Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, also known as WPW, occurs when the heart has an extra electrical pathway, which causes it to beat irregularly. The website PubMed Health, which considers itself the “U.S. National Library of Medicine,” explains the heart condition perhaps the best. According to the site, “Normally, electrical signals in the heart go through a pathway that helps the heart beat regularly. The wiring in the heart prevents extra beats from occurring and keeps the next beat from happening to soon. In people with WPW, there is an extra, or accessory, pathway that may cause a very rapid heart rate.” Belcher is currently waiting for results from her intracardiac electrophysiology study (EPS). According to PubMed Health, an EPS test can possibly help locate where the extra electrical pathway lies.

“To be honest with you, I am probably more concerned about not being able to play softball than having Wolff-Parkinson’s,” Belcher said. “I know that sounds bad but I don’t believe Wolff-Parkinson’s is too serious.” Belcher may be somewhat accurate. Most people with WPW do not always feel its symptoms and less than 1% of people with the disorder die from heart attacks caused by it.

“It really bothers me that I can’t play because I have always enjoyed softball, growing up,” Belcher said. “I feel like I don’t know what to do because it’s all I know. I mean if I can’t be out there on the field than what should I be doing?” Belcher’s teammate and good friend, Kayla Kelsoe, also misses having Belcher on the playing field. “It really sucks that the doctors won’t clear her, she is arguably one of the best players we have,” Kelsoe said. “They better find out what’s wrong with her soon. We got a lot of games coming up.”

Perhaps nobody knows Belcher as well as her older sister, Sarah Mayle. Belcher and Mayle both grew up as avid softball players. Belcher has learned much of what she knows through her sister. “Bethany is a great softball player and I like to believe I had a lot to do with that,” Mayle said. “We basically lived at the ball park and whenever we weren’t at practice or in a game, I would be on a vacant field drilling balls at my sister. It’s a shame that she has to sit out during this time of her life. You know? She is on the varsity softball team and is better than most of the girls out there. Yet, she is sitting on the bench.”

To keep her mind off not being able to play softball, Belcher has been doing different things. She has been hanging with her friends and boyfriend more. “That girl is always doing something,” said Kelsoe, referring to Belcher’s current lifestyle. “I don’t blame her either. She deserves to have fun. I just wish she was having fun playing softball with me. I believe she will be okay though. She’s a tough girl.” Belcher has also started reading more to help take her mind off things. “I’ve never really liked reading,” Belcher said. “It’s pretty funny because now I feel like a nerd. Rather than throwing a softball around, I’ve got my face buried in some book.”

Belcher has a reputation of being tough. Her friends and even she admits that she can be a little fiery and short-fused. “That’s one thing about Bethany that everyone knows,” Kelsoe said. “You do not want to piss that girl off. I honestly think she would beat half the guys I know up. I’m sure they even know she could.” Belcher believes her rough attitude helps her compete better in softball. “I know most people think I’m a bitch,” Belcher said. “But I guarantee you most of them don’t want to compete against me.”

Doctors believe that Belcher’s chances of playing softball again are very likely. She was told by her physician that people with WPW usually do not experience symptoms. In fact, WPW is difficult to even detect if symptoms are not present. Bethany was told the worst thing WPW could do to harm her was lead to a heart attack. However, this is very rare and only occurs less than 0.6% of those who have the heart complication. According to PubMed Health, symptoms include: chest pain, dizziness, light-headedness, fainting, palpitations and shortness of breath.

Belcher has high hopes when dealing with her current situation. She believes that everything happens for a reason and that she was meant to play softball. “I know softball is a major part of my life,” Belcher said. “It’s part of my destiny. So I believe, because of that, nothing will get in my way, not even Wolff-Parkinson’s.”