EAST LANSING, Michigan – Mike Garland leaned back in his chair near the Breslin Center grounds, slowly working on the gum in his mouth and stopped very briefly.
“That was one hell of a trip, man,” he said, trying to put into perspective the journey he and his family have been on for most of the past two years.
It includes the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, tears of despair and self-doubt as well as absolute exhilaration and through higher power, while trying to remain an integral part of one of the nation’s top college basketball teams.
While Garland was busy in the role he’s best known for – a longtime assistant to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, struggling to win the Big Ten titles and reach the Final Fours – he joined also her son, Ray, who was in the fight of a lifetime. , his enlarged heart was damaged to the point that it became evident that the only option was a transplant.
It all started in June 2011. At the age of 26, Ray Garland couldn’t get rid of what he thought was a cold, possibly the flu. A few tests later, she was diagnosed with an enlarged heart and congestive heart failure.
It all started with a virus
“They said it was probably caused by something viral,” said Ray Garland. “But there really was no way for them to find out, but it was most likely a virus.”
It’s a difficult diagnosis at such a young age, and when Garland, who lives in Cleveland, was in East Lansing to visit his father and mother, Cynthia, in December 2019, he contracted pneumonia. Due to the condition discovered years earlier, Ray’s heart was getting worse and with a few pushes from his father, Ray was transferred home to the Cleveland Clinic.
Mike briefly walked away from the team at this point as the Spartans battled early in the Big Ten schedule while facing their own bigger issues than basketball. Main guard Cassius Winston was still grappling with the death of his brother, Zachary, and Garland had been the one Winston had leaned on the most.
Garland was torn between being there for his son and being there for his players.
“I love all the guys on this show, and you know the relationship between Tom and me,” Garland said. “But he’s my son. I have to make sure he’s okay, otherwise none of this means anything.”
It was an impossible place for Garland, and he relied heavily on those close to him – Izzo, his college mate in northern Michigan and a man Garland considers a brother, and associate head coach Dwayne Stephens. There were plenty of long phone calls with the two, which always assured Garland he was where he needed to be.
But at the end of January, Garland was back on the squad for a game in Minnesota. The Spartans returned to East Lansing late one night after the game and Garland considered heading to Cleveland as soon as he returned home. He was tired, however, and decided it would be best to get some sleep and go in the morning.
At 5:30 am, his phone rang. It was Ray.
“They welcome me, Daddy,” Ray said. “I need you here.”
Doctors quickly took Ray Garland to install a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), a pump used for patients with end-stage heart failure.
Garland gathered some clothes, ran to his car, and began to drive – quickly, beating himself up for not trusting his instincts.
“It was tough,” Garland said. “Sometimes your inner spirit tells you something. Sometimes your inner spirit is screaming at you. In this situation, my inner spirit was screaming at me to go that night and I ignored it.… The kid was scared to death. “
Ray was scared, but he hadn’t given up hope.
“I think it was harder for them than it was for me,” Ray said of his parents. “I’ve always trusted myself and I’ve trusted my doctors. So every time they’ve come and said, ‘These are the options,’ I usually said, ‘OK, let’s do- as soon as possible. “Because if it’s gotta be life or death, I’m not going to run away. I’ll try to find a solution first.”
The solution was the LVAD, and by the time Mike arrived at the Cleveland Clinic, the procedure was complete. The pump was on and Ray was fine. In fact, he was back in East Lansing in early March when Michigan State beat Ohio State on the last day of the regular season to win a Big Ten title share for the third straight season.
Soon the season was brought to a halt due to COVID-19, but Ray Garland was in a much better place with the pump installed as he continued to wait for a new heart. Things were going well. The Garlands could sleep peacefully.
Fast forward to this summer and Ray Garland’s body had started rejecting the pump. An infection had developed in her chest and the doctors had to come in and see if they could, basically, scratch her. They did their best, but the infection persisted.
Doctors were to remove the pump, but keep Garland alive. They had a plan, but it was an operation that had never been done. They told Mike and Cynthia it was risky. Ray could die, and if he succeeded, a number of complications could ensue.
They went there, and true to form, Ray Garland did it. Days later, in the early morning of June 1 – the day after Mike Garland celebrated his 67th birthday – Mike got a call.
“Daddy,” Ray Garland said. “I have a heart.”
“He had three major heart operations in 21 days,” said Mike Garland.
It was late at night when the transplant operation ended, so doctors told Mike and Cynthia that they needed to go home, rest, and come back in the morning. By the time Mike arrived just before 8 a.m. he pulled the curtain back in the intensive care unit and could hardly believe his eyes.
“He’s sitting upright in bed and smiling at me,” Mike said. “It was amazing. Amazing. A few hours later they pull him up and put him on a chair. Then within a few hours he takes a few steps and it wasn’t even 24 hours. I mean, it’s a miracle – type stuff.
“I’ve learned so much about the medical industry and what it does, what it can do. It’s miraculous. Thanks to that, to faith and to these good people, I believe that the good Lord pushed us to cross. “
“It’s still a process”
Ray Garland, now 37, is now about six months after the transplant and is doing his best to get back into everyday life. He spends a lot of time taking his 14-year-old daughter, Jackie, to his volleyball and basketball games while undergoing cardiac rehabilitation at the Cleveland Clinic, while training at home.
“It’s always a process,” said Ray Garland, who documented his journey on Instagram. “The drugs – Prednisone and the rejection drugs – sometimes make it difficult because you have different side effects. But I’ve done almost everything, so it’s a lot better, but it’s still a tough process. “
As Ray continues to adjust to his new life, Mike Garland has also opened a new chapter.
Just before the start of this season, Garland went from assistant coach to special assistant to head coach. On the surface, not much has changed. Garland is still breaking down the movie, working on game plans, pushing players to be their best on and off the pitch. After all, that’s what Garland, now in his 22nd season with the Spartans, has really always done.
But some of the more time-consuming things, namely recruiting on the road, have been taken off Garland’s plate. This allows “OG” – this is how gamers affectionately refer to the staff’s “original gangster” for the wisdom it conveys – to continue to lend an ear to current players while also helping the program to. stay connected with your alumni.
“I miss being a part of it,” Garland said, though it’s impossible to find a single person on the program who doesn’t think Garland is still a part of it. “I’ve been a basketball coach for 40 years, so do I miss it? Yeah, I miss it. But there’s no one bigger than the program. And facing my son and his situation was better – better for him, better for them.
“My son is doing extremely well right now, but we haven’t gotten past the point where I can just say, ‘Hey, I know nothing’s going to happen. “So that’s going to allow me to be able to go and go if I have to come back, go see him a little more. So it works.”
This Christmas will be special for the Garlands, even with the possibility that they may not be able to come together. Ray says there’s a chance his immediate family – he has a brother, sister, and six nieces and nephews – could reunite in the next few days, but with the omicron variant of COVID-19 peaking, doctors at Ray want him to be careful.
“If someone is sick, I may not be able to,” said Ray Garland.
Together or not, the Garlands will surely be grateful this holiday season as they appreciate how far we’ve come.
It’s something that can be difficult to figure out, and Mike Garland said there were some dark times. But in the end, their faith paid off.
“Several times throughout this ordeal I just wondered if we were going to lose him,” Garland said, stopping again briefly to process everything. “But that didn’t happen. We were in the best place we could be and he’s a pretty tough little guy.”
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