Glacier Peak player bounces back after heart surgeries

SNOHOMISH — Taylor Baird was 18 months old the first time she fainted, and it happened many more times over the years. No one could figure out why she occasionally got woozy and then toppled over in moments of exertion, stress and even sickness.

“It’s hard to explain away a kid just fainting,” said her mother, Kirsten Baird. “But for all the things we’d been through, we always just kind of (assumed) that she was light-headed.”

Until last year, she added, “no one had ever said anything about her heart.”

As doctors would eventually determine, Taylor Baird was not merely light-headed. She had supraventricular tachycardia, commonly known as SVT, which is a condition that causes a person’s heartbeat to accelerate suddenly and sometimes randomly to a frantic pace. Last year Baird began wearing a heart monitor during her junior season with the Glacier Peak girls basketball team, and when the condition was triggered at workouts her heartbeat would reach 240 beats a minute.

“We could be running hard and I’d look at her and she’d have kind of a glassy-eyed look,” said Glacier Peak coach Brian Hill. “That was scary to me.”

Certainly scary for Baird, too. “I’d start seeing black dots on the outskirts of my eyes, and then they’d just close in.” At that point, she said, “I wouldn’t have any real control. I’d just have to yell and then try to sit down before I fell.”

It was Baird herself who finally saw something on television that put the family on track to a diagnosis and, a few months later, a surgical solution. The TV program described her symptoms precisely, and she relayed the information to her doctor during a routine physical before last season.

The heart monitor helped doctors get an accurate read on her condition, and in late November of 2012 she underwent a procedure at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Surgeons inserted a special instrument through a blood vessel to the heart, and then ablated the exact area of the heart that was causing the irregular rhythm.

Unfortunately, the first operation did not fully correct her condition, and a month later she went back for a second procedure. This one did the trick, “and she’s 100 percent cured now,” Kirsten Baird said.

Which is good news for the Baird family, of course, but also for her Glacier Peak coaches and teammates. Now a senior, Taylor Baird is a 6-foot-1 starting post for a team that opened the season with 10 straight victories. Although the Grizzlies dropped their first game on Friday night, a 54-52 loss at Shorewood, they remain one of the top Class 3A teams not only in the Western Conference, but in the entire state.

“This is honestly the dream team I could ask for in my senior year,” she said. “The team is amazing, and I also have the relief that I’m not going to faint. There’s nothing wrong with me, which means I can push myself way harder than I was able to before. As a senior I try to lead by example, and now I can push myself at practice and in games without having to worry about feeling sick.”

Baird, who will play next season at Southern Utah University, is joined on Glacier Peak’s front line by 6-4 Nikki Fausey, another senior who is headed next season to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Baird and Fausey “complement each other really well,” Hill said. “They’re both very unselfish, and what’s great is if one draws much attention it leaves the other one open. If Taylor is having a great night, Nikki can be the role player. And if Nikki is having a great night, Taylor can be the role player.

“They’re getting tons of rebounds and tons of putbacks, and it’s been really fun having both of them on the floor together this year.”

The entire team “is very talented and very unselfish,” Hill went on. “As I’ve told them, this is the most fun team I’ve been able to coach. We’re truly a family. They love each other and they do whatever I ask them to do, and then they do more.”

The Grizzlies have advanced to the state playoffs the last three seasons, including trips to the Tacoma Dome for the state tournament in 2010 and 2012. Alas, Glacier Peak went two-and-out both times, but Hill is hopeful that will change this year with a team he believes might be his best.

“I know how good I think we are and I know how good we can be,” he said. “But we still have a lot of growing to do and a long ways to go to reach our potential. We’re not just happy with getting to Tacoma this year. We’ve been there before and then come home (early), so our goal this year is to bring home hardware.”

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