Feature: Living to Play

by Austin Callaway

The surgery took 13 hours with only a 30% chance that he would survive, but 13 month old Antonio Ayala survived.

The surgery was to fix an Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) along with a Pulmonary Artery Anomaly, which is when there is a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of your heart. These conditions can combine oxygenated and unoxygenated blood, leading to weaker parts of the body which result in making Ayala very sick. He had three holes in his atria, and his pulmonary artery had to be readjusted to his heart.

“My parents, at the time in college after 4 years in the military and were going to school in Tallahassee, Florida, which was far from our home in Maine where the surgery took place,” said Ayala.

Luckily, there were accommodations for Ayala’s family to stay in Portland, Maine during their son’s life threatening surgery.

(Photo: Antonio Ayala)

“As a kid I was always smaller than others, paler than others, and prone to sickness,” said Antonio.

His parents always kept their household very clean and made sure that they were eating healthy, organic food, not only to keep Ayala healthy, but to encourage that he isn’t different from everyone else.

But as Ayala became older, he started to have a fascination with sports, specifically soccer and wrestling. When he got seriously into sports he had to prepare his body for the exerting of energy more than his fellow teammates around him.

“ I had to maintain healthy proper diets, healthy lifestyle choices, and plenty of rest. I never consciously thought about those things, because that was the way life was in my house. Fit, active, and healthy was just the way we lived,” said Ayala.

During his 7th and 8th grade years, he started to have episodes of passing out in class and sporting events. At his next cardiologist appointment he told his doctor.

“ My cardiologist pointed out that I have an abnormally low heart rate and blood pressure. Not enough oxygenated blood was going through my body to keep me well. My brain shuts down to compensate and damages itself,” said Ayala.

(Photo: Antonio Ayala)


A year later and Ayala was becoming healthy enough for yearly check ups but was informed that he might need a pacemaker by the age of 18. He was still able to continue his athletic career on his school soccer and wrestling teams; as well as the premier teams.

“I wouldn’t let my condition get in the way of my passion for soccer and wrestling,” said Ayala.

All his hard work of training and maintaining a healthy lifestyle paid off, and on his 18th birthday during his next appointment with his cardiologist, he was told that he was going to be taken off the pacemaker list. He would be moved to one check up every two years.

“That was one of the happiest days of my life when the doctors told me I had a healthy heart and could continue to play sports into college,” said Ayala.

Ayala joined the class of 2020 at Franklin Pierce University in 2016, where he is currently training for an attempt to join the men’s soccer team.

“After all I’ve been through; the surgeries, the hours of training on the best soccer teams in Maine, the diet plans, and the hardships I put my parents through, I was able to build a lifestyle where I was considered, not just normal, but healthy enough to do what I want to do in life,” said Ayala.

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