Overcoming odds to play ball

Jeff Eischen decided to walk on to the Portland State basketball program almost three years ago. The Vikings, under then-coach Joel Sobotka, were undergoing serious changes in the roster. To make a long story short, Eischen’s decision would benefit the program in the next year.

A 6-foot-8 product of Hillsboro High School, Eischen, or Eisch as some friends call him, didn’t play his freshman year there – he only stood 6-foot-2 at the time. But by his sophomore year, blessed with 3 inches of height in one year, Eischen tried out and made the varsity squad.

Within five games, he was an effective starter for Hill High. That year, he put up 18 points for the best game of his first year as a varsity player. Junior year, Eischen averaged 13 points and 7.5 rebounds to gain steady ground as a solid inside threat. Senior year, Eischen broke through averaging 16 points and 11 boards per game, making second team all-metro, perhaps a snub to such notable numbers.

In his first playoff game, Eisch scored 27 points and 13 rebounds to lead the charge for his team.

It was then that his senior year ended and he decided to take his game to the next level. A top choice was staying close to home and playing for a program making upward progress.

“I liked the school (PSU) and all the players. It seemed like a good fit, so I decided to walk on,” Eischen said.

Eischen is a straight-forward type of guy, with good morals, who is close to his family. He visits his home in Hillsboro, where proud parents Dan and Maryland reside, quite frequently. Eischen’s family also includes two brothers and three sisters.

Starting out at Portland State last season was a challenge being a walk-on because Eischen had to earn his respect and minutes on the court.

“I was the second to last guy on the bench. I practiced, got better and eventually played in a couple games in preseason. I was just starting to get minutes and then all of a sudden it was goodbye career,” he said.

Following a preseason game in December, 2001, Eischen found out he was done playing hoops as a Viking. Doctors found a heart arrhythmia.

His heart would take off abnormally toward rates of up to 300 beats per minute. Because of that, Eischen was taken off the court for good.

Soon after, he made the decision to undergo surgery, installing a defibrillator in his chest, which would monitor his heart and send an electric shock at abnormal heart rates (anything above 250 beats per minute).

“It was devastating to find out. When you’re 18, you feel invincible, especially with a game that’s always been there no matter if you wanted to play or not,” Eischen explained.

When they discovered Eischen’s condition, the doctors, trainers and Portland State were unfamiliar with this type of problem for an athlete. People seemed uncomfortable with the thought of Eischen stepping back on the court to play again with what seemed like an incredible risk. He was not cleared to play at Portland State any more for liability reasons, along with much uncertainty.

“After I wasn’t cleared, I just continued to work out because I didn’t know what else to do. The reason I had surgery was to come back and play. I played in some summer leagues, had lots of success with that and wanted to keep playing,” Eischen said.

With the obvious potential to play somewhere else, he made the decision to stay at Portland State during the 2002-2003 school year. His decision to stay was based on his desire to student-coach and still be involved with the team. Another factor was a chance down the road to still get cleared to play. Eischen had also made a lot of good friends as a second-year student. Eischen was medically cleared to play sports, just not through Portland State.

After Eischen and family members met with Portland State athletic officials, an agreement was reached. Since he was medically cleared to play, PSU would allow him to play, but first Eischen had to sign papers releasing Portland State from any liability, due to his condition.

After asking questions, expending energy and deliberating, miraculously Eischen was cleared to play again as a Viking this season. It seemed as though his firm belief in someone up above had paid off. He went from being totally devastated to having the chance to play the game that he still loves.

“The difference from this year to last year is that there is a different attitude out there on the floor. Another reason I wanted to come back was for Jeb (Ivey) and Kevin (Briggs), because they play so hard whenever they step on the floor. I wanted to be there to play with them,” Eischen said.

He first got the chance to get back on the court for PSU against the University of Portland. From there, Eischen played more with each game, even starting a couple games this season. Making steady progress, Eisch is finding his wind and rhythm on the basketball court. It is a wonder he is out there in more ways than one.

“Now I’m practicing like normal and playing like normal. I think we (the team) still can attain a lot of things this year,” an optimistic Eischen said.

Heart Arrhythmia
An arrhythmia is a disturbance in the rate of the heartbeat. Various arrhythmias can be symptoms of serious heart disorders. The hearts rhythm is controlled by an electrical impulse that’s generated from a clump of tissue on the right atrium called the sinoatrial node. The electrical impulses then travel to a second clump of tissue, the atrioventricular node and then to the ventricles.

Implants, such as implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICD) can control these impulses. The implant is placed close to the heart and tracks it’s rhythm in order to slow it down or halt excessively rapid heart rates that occur in the ventricles. ICD’s have two parts. A generator or tiny battery tracks the rhythm and sends out shocks when needed. A lead or wire that is attached to the ICD and placed close to the heart to carry out the shocks. The ICD records the person’s heart rhythm and any shocks it sends out.