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COLUMBUS, Ohio Joe Heskett, Ohio State wrestling volunteer assistant coach, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and ventricular tachycardia last Thursday and underwent surgery at Ohio State University Medical Center’s Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital Tuesday to have a cardiac defibrillator implanted.

Heskett, who had a heart rate in excess of 250 beats per minute at a practice session last Thursday, will continue to undergo medical treatment. His condition will no longer allow him to compete as a wrestler, ending his remarkable and successful career.

Just a week after finishing fifth for the U.S. Freestyle team at the 2007 World Wrestling Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, Heskett suffered life-threatening ventricular tachycardia at the Steelwood Athletic Training Facility, the practice site for the OSU wrestling team. The prompt action by Todd Miller, the facility’s head athletic trainer, as well as the Columbus Fire Department, resulted in life saving shock defibrillation.

“I want to first and foremost say thank you to my family and friends, and I am grateful for the support from the Ohio State Athletics Department and the professional first-class care at Ross Heart Hospital,” Heskett said. “Through all of this I just know how blessed I am with the love that has surrounded me. Nothing has been more fulfilling than seeing my daughters, although my youngest, Ava, keeps trying to pull on all my wires.”

Cardiomyopathy, a rare heart condition that can go unnoticed until an episode occurs and likely inherited in Heskett’s case, is a weakening and scarring of the heart muscle that reduces the ability of the heart to pump blood efficiently. One of the complications can be ventricular tachycardia, a rapid, uncontrolled heart rhythm that can lead to sudden cardiac death. 

Several days of tests at the Richard M. Ross Heart Hospital demonstrated both conditions to be present, leading to aggressive treatment with medications and an implanted defibrillator to prevent a recurrent episode.

“I have no idea how Joe was able to compete at a world class level in such a demanding sport,” Dr. James Ryan, the cardiologist treating Heskett, said. “As I told him, he has a damaged V-6 engine, competing against a bunch of turbo-charged V-8 engines. Some combination of inner drive, technical superiority and intelligence must have allowed him to compensate for his cardiac limitations. The Russian (two-time world champion Makhach Murtazaliev), who defeated him in the world championships last month, certainly would have had his hands full if Joe had a normal heart.”

“God has blessed Joe with so many talents,” Tom Ryan, Ohio State wrestling head coach, said. “It has been a privilege to work with Joe and watch his passion to train and win Olympic gold. It is a difficult and surreal circumstance as all of us close to him stand beside him as he deals with the reality of the situation. Joe is one of the finest men I have met in the sport and looking at the big picture, I am just glad he is alive to share more laughs with. He has a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters who bring perspective to the situation. Clearly, God has bigger plans for Joe.”

“We’re devastated by Joe’s condition and we will definitely miss him on the mat,” Kevin Jackson, U.S. Wrestling National Freestyle coach, said. “We’re very happy and thankful his health is good and nothing more serious did happen to him. I have a lot of love for Joe and so do his teammates. I’m happy they found out about his condition soon enough to be able to help him. I’m happy to know that Joe will be there for his wife and his children.”

Emergency action plans are posted outside of every training room, near a telephone, so others, in addition to athletic training staff will be prepared to handle any situation in a calm manner. In addition, Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) are placed throughout competition and practice facilities. The athletic training division at Ohio State evaluates the system annually, making changes if necessary.

“The plan worked because Joe knew something was wrong and he came to me seeking advice and soon after, I knew he needed a higher level of care than I could provide,” Miller said.

“I am remarkably blessed to be alive,” Heskett said. “This situation, although unfortunate, is the will of our great Lord and I turn over every fiber of faith to his plan. I don’t have time to ask why and ponder. I will get healthy and I look forward to the next chapter of my life. I do not hang up my shoes easily, but the reality of the situation leaves me with one option and that is to stay optimistic and begin to excel in other areas of my life that I have been extremely blessed to possess.”

Joe Heskett Profile
National and International competition
Five-time U.S. National Team Member
Finished fifth at 2007 World Wrestling Championships
2007 and 2001 Pan American Silver medalist
2004 Summer Olympic Games alternate
2004 Dave Schultz International Champion, earning Outstanding Wrestler
2002 New York Athletic Club Champion

Iowa State (1999-2002)
Became the Cyclones eighth four-time All-American (1999-2002) with a career record of 143-9
2002 NCAA Champion at 165 pounds
Finished third in 1999 at NCAA championships, second in 2000 and 2001
Three-time Big 12 champion (1999, 2001, 2002)
Three-time Midlands champion (1998, 2000, 2001)
Third on ISU’s all-time wins list (143)
1999 and 2000 University National Freestyle champion
Four-time Academic All-American, graduated from Iowa State in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in speech communications and earned a masters degree with honors in educational leadership from Cal Poly in 2005

Walsh Jesuit High School
Three-time Ohio High School state champion