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Willard heart surgery success; Speedy recovery for HC's coach.

Byline: Jennifer Toland

WORCESTER - Holy Cross men's basketball coach Ralph Willard underwent successful open-heart surgery at the end of March and plans to resume his full coaching duties within the next two weeks.

The robot-assisted procedure, to repair a leaking mitral valve, was performed March 27, about three weeks after HC's season ended, at the Cleveland Clinic. Willard, 62, spent nine days in the hospital before returning home to continue his recovery.

"I'm trying to rest and relax a little bit," Willard said yesterday from his home, where he is doing some work until he can get back to his Hart Center office. "I'm glad I had it done. The surgeon was pleased with the outcome."

The mitral valve, one of four heart valves, controls blood flow between the left atrium and left ventricle.

Willard said he knew he had mitral valve regurgitation - when the mitral valve doesn't close tightly, letting blood leak backward in the heart - for years, but only recently noticed the effects of the condition during his daily workouts.

"It started to affect my ability to work out," Willard said. "I was never short of breath, but I got fatigued."

Mitral valve regurgitation causes the heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of the body.

After discussing his situation with doctors, Willard decided it was the right time to have the surgery.

"Not to mention," he said, "it was taking about 15 yards off my drive."

In addition to being an exercise devotee, Willard is also an avid golfer.

Willard said since the surgery he has experienced an irregular heart beat, which sometimes occurs, he said, in cases like his, but he seemed in good spirits.

"I just have to let the heart heal and get the regular rhythm back," Willard said. "The surgeon said in about two weeks I should be able to get back to work and do everything I normally do."

During the offseason three years ago, Willard had surgery for prostate cancer. He goes for follow-up exams every six months and during his last checkup, in December, was given another clean bill of health.

"Thank God," he said. "Other than having my tonsils out as a kid, I had never been in the hospital except for (the heart and prostate surgeries). And I found out I don't want to be in the hospital."

Willard, who will enter his 10th season as coach of his alma mater, has a 174-103 record at Holy Cross. He's guided the Crusaders to four NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT berth. His career record stands at 318-217, including five seasons at Pittsburgh and four at Western Kentucky.

The 2007-08 season started promisingly for the Crusaders, with six straight wins, but injuries mounted as the year went on and HC finished 15-14, falling to American in the first round of the Patriot League Tournament.

NAME: COLLEGE OF THE HOLY CROSS

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Willard
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 10, 2008
Words:488
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