James Is Heart And Soul Of Gloucester Girls' Team Since The Senior Had Surgery To Fix A Heart Condition In 1998, She Has Developed Into A Leader For The Lions, As Well As An Inspiration.

Posted: March 02, 2000

They sometimes came while she was doing the most ordinary of things - sitting at her desk during school, or baby-sitting.

Since the third grade, Gloucester basketball player Erin James had been experiencing moments in which her heart raced and she suddenly became nauseated. By the time she entered high school, the episodes had gotten more severe.

James was born with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a rare congenital abnormality of the heart rhythm. One day around Thanksgiving of 1998, James was walking down a hallway at school, and she was overcome and blacked out. She was rushed to a hospital.

"I would get real dizzy," James said. "My heart would beat so hard I could feel like it would pound out of my chest. Now, it was serious enough to do something about it."

James underwent laser surgery in November 1998 to close an extra electric pathway in her heart, a pathway that caused the overactivity. One week later, with her doctor's approval, she joined the basketball team's practices. She says she hasn't had any heart problems since.

Though initially slowed by the surgery, James gradually regained her quickness and helped the Lions to the South Jersey Group 2 semifinals.

One year later and playing in her first full year of good health, James has continued to lead her team. Tonight, the Lions (18-7), who won the Tri-County Conference Classic Division title, will play in the quarterfinals of the Group 1 playoffs at Point Pleasant Beach.

James' leadership and talent - she is averaging 17.7 points as a senior guard - have been the keys to a team that has adjusted to life with a new coach and without some key players who graduated from last season's team.

"Erin is not necessarily the most vocal on the court, but her intensity and whole work ethic is so strong," Gloucester coach Ann Peeke said. "Every time she steps on the court, she gives you 110 percent. If she hurts, you will never know."

Few on the team knew of the seriousness of James' condition until her surgery in 1998. The pain of her pounding heart had gotten so bad that she took medication for it. That pain, however, paled in comparison to her frustration in not knowing when the episodes would come.

James and her family were concerned that she might become sick while driving, so after the incident in which she passed out, they opted for the surgery.

James was released from the hospital two days after the operation and given clearance to return to competition a week later.

Returning to full strength took longer.

"A week doesn't seem like a long time, but when you are just sitting there, you get out of shape," James said. "It was so weird. After that, my whole momentum had to pick up."

Said her mother, Virginia: "The fact that she was in good shape helped her out a lot."

James, though, struggled to keep up with teammates in the simplest drills and had trouble getting in sync on the court. By January 1999, though, James had worked through her fatigue and improved to near full strength.

She was a large part of the team's nucleus last season, and her work in getting back into shape was extremely important to the team's success, then-coach Jackie Trakimas said.

"She's just a courageous young lady," said Trakimas, who now coaches the Rutgers-Camden women's team. "She has learned to deal with negative things because she has had to overcome adversity, and it will help her at the next level."

The next level for James will be Holy Family College in Northeast Philadelphia, where she earned nearly a full athletic scholarship.

James' skill at coping with challenging situations came in handy this season, when she took over the leadership role formerly held by her good friend and former teammate, MollyAnne Light, who graduated last year.

James encouraged her teammates, many of whom were less experienced, to take on a larger role, Peeke said.

"MollyAnne did help the younger kids come along," Peeke said. "And though she was more vocal, she left Erin with a good sense that she was capable of doing that."

After overcoming Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, leading her team was the easy part for James.

"It just gives you a whole different perspective on things," James said. "After something like that happens, you realize how much you should be enjoying your life."

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