DHS player’s heart defect discovered in routine sports physical

Senior played despite leaky valve, but must now undergo open-heart surgery

Halfway through his senior year at Destrehan High School, Brock Benedetto was preparing for the upcoming baseball season and had no idea that he would soon be faced with the terrifying prospect of having to undergo open-heart surgery.

As a junior, the 19-year-old centerfielder was an All-District selection for the Wildcats and was looking forward to starting for the team again. But in his pre-season physical, Dr. William Johnson heard something strange when he held his stethoscope up to Benedetto’s chest.

“He told everyone to be quiet because he heard something. He did it again and said he’d never heard something like that so he wanted to get it checked out,” Benedetto said.

Benedetto did not think there was any reason to worry. He had been in the best shape of his life prior to the checkup.

“When we are in baseball conditioning I am always out in front so I would have never thought anything was wrong,” he said.

When Destrehan’s trainer called Benedetto’s mother, Wendy, a real estate agent and councilwoman, she was in the middle of doing paper work on a house she was selling. She said she never believed anything would be wrong with her son’s heart.

Although Benedetto had been diagnosed as having a small heart defect as a child, his pediatrician had said the issue would probably not cause any problems in Bendetto’s life, and if it did it would not be until he was well into his 70s or 80s.

Thinking the physical was just a formality and that the doctor must have been mistaken, Wendy said she was worried about the wasted time and money it would take for her son to see a doctor for a second opinion to be cleared to play baseball, which she saw as a mere formality.

“I was so mad,” she said.

However, the day after the physical Benedetto went to see heart specialist Dr. Christopher Paris at St. Charles Parish Hospital.

“We did all kinds of tests over there, an EKG and an ultrasound. That is when he told us the valve was leaking and that I would need open-heart surgery,” Benedetto said.

The family was shocked. Not only was one of Benedetto’s heart valves damaged, it was leaking and had also caused his heart to enlarge.

“We went two weeks with literally silence in the house because nobody knew what to say to anybody because at that point they wouldn’t release him until they knew what was going on. They wouldn’t let him play,” Wendy said.

It was apparent that Benedetto would have to undergo open-heart surgery to have the damaged valve replaced, the only question was when. Benedetto’s father, Randy, said the family wanted to see if his son could still play baseball.

To asses whether Benedetto was able to play despite the heart condition, he underwent a stress test. He was hooked up to machinery to monitor his heart rate and told to run on a treadmill.

“I was getting to 13 or 14 minutes and the nurse stopped me. After she stopped me, she said I was 9 seconds away from beating the hospital record stress test,” he said. “I said, ‘I wish you would have told me so I could have broken the record.’”

Wendy is quick to interject that most people taking the stress test are much older.

“Brock, break a record? The average participant is 60 years old,” she said.

A true competitor, Benedetto was unfazed by his mother.

“It is still a record,” he added.

After successfully passing the stress test, Benedetto was cleared to play. In fact, his doctor told the family that there should not be any problem at all.

“He told us if he had a son he wouldn’t think twice about letting him play,” Randy said.

They knew that he would have to go through surgery after the season was over, but if it had not been for Destrehan’s team doctor catching the problem, Benedetto may have not know about his heart condition until it was too late.

“They said they could do the operation within a year or so in the summer before I start college,” Benedetto said. “If you wait too long it can get too big and you can get a heart replacement. That is if they didn’t catch it in five or 10 years down the road.’

Although he missed two weeks of conditioning, Benedetto again took the field and regained his position as starting centerfielder, which he held all year.

“I tried not to think about it too much, I tried to keep it in the back of my head. I didn’t really want to tell anybody, just a few of (my teammates),” Bendetto said.

Benedetto played the season mostly without incident, except for one slight injury when he ran into a wall trying to catch a ball.

“I would have caught it, but the fence got in the way,” he said. “I bruised a bone and it was sore for a little while. I sat out two or three games.”

It was not until Destrehan fell to Alexandria in the playoffs that the family started focusing on Benedetto’s upcoming heart surgery.

“When the graduation announcements came in I didn’t want to open the box because I knew the next thing that happened after that was over,” Wendy said.

However, Benedetto is looking forward to getting the surgery over with and moving on.

“We’ve got a busy schedule ahead of us between graduation, angiogram, senior trip, pre-op and then surgery,” Benedetto said.

If everything goes as planned during valve replacement surgery on June 5, in which Benedetto will receive a cow heart valve transplant wrapped in a titanium ring, he should be released from the hospital within a week and may even be able to play baseball a month after his surgery.

“It is a four to five hour surgery, a four to five day stay, six weeks without lifting five pounds, 30 days without driving and in 30 days he can be on the field,” Wendy said.

Although there has been some interest from a small college in Tennessee that is recruiting Benedetto to play baseball, he appears to have made up his mind to stay in St. Charles Parish and attend the process technology program at South Central Louisiana Technical College.

With all that has happened and is yet to happen, having Benedetto close to home appears to be a priority for his family.

“At this point I am not sure I want him going out of state,” Wendy said. “It is going to get harder and I think we are going to get a lot of prayers and a lot of support and you just have to pray it is in the right hands and everything goes well. In three months he can go back out onto the field if he chooses.”

The only catch is that the heart valve will have to be replaced every 17 years or so and Benedetto will have to take an aspirin each day to prevent blood clots.

In the end, the family is relieved that the problem was caught early during the school physical and that they have a choice on how to deal with it.

“If it wouldn’t have been for Dr. Johnson we wouldn’t be in this situation, it would have been a lot worse and we owe him a lot of gratitude,” Wendy said. “As much as Brock complained about those physicals every year, they were worth it.”


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