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Prince George's Co.

Maryland Basketball Coach Battles Rare Heart Condition

A former basketball star coaches the next generation of athletes after overcoming a medical condition that ended her career

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A former Prince George’s County basketball star had dreams of playing in the WNBA before a rare heart condition led to a stroke that ended her career. Now, two decades later, she's inspiring the girl's basketball team as a coach at Duval High School.

Latia Howard graduated from Central High School in 1994 as a Nike All-American athlete and was a starting forward for the University of Pittsburg. But her career was cut short when a nagging fatigue turned into extreme pain during her senior year of college.

“I ended up having to get surgery, emergency open-heart surgery because I did not recognize that I had an illness, an infection,” Howard said.

Howard had endocarditis an infection to the heart valve, and the way she got it shocked her. “My endocarditis came from dental work, just a random cleaning,” Howard said.

Cardiologist Roquell Wyche says endocarditis is uncommon but can be life threatening.

“The biggest red flag is if you’ve had a procedure or if you’ve had a dental cleaning, and maybe about one or two weeks after you develop a fever, or a general kind of fatigue,” Wyche said.

Doctor Wyche says most times endocarditis can be treated with antibiotics but Howard’s case was severe enough to warrant surgery.

“Then after her surgical procedure she developed scar tissue and because the heart valves are right in the area of traveling up to the brain some of that scar tissue went up to her brain and it caused a stroke,” Wyche said.

Howard had a stroke less than a year after she’d gone through open heart surgery. At the time of her stroke, she had gotten healthier, and was playing basketball again. The stroke ended her basketball career.

“I was being recruited to the WNBA. I had lost it all. I had to go through the process of learning to walk, talk, cleaning up drool from my face,” Howard said.

More than 20 years after her ordeal, basketball is back in her life. She radiates gratitude coaching the girls at Duval High School.

“Not only teaching them what they need to know on the court but life lessons as well,” Howard said.

Off the court, she’s determined to share her story about endocarditis and the signs of stroke.

You can use the word F.A.S.T. to remember and recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke: Face drooping, Arm weakness and Speech difficulty mean it’s Time to call 911

For more information on signs of endocarditis and other heart problems you can connect with our regional American Heart Association.

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