For most of the 42 days Noah Taylor spent in the hospital earlier this year, he thought his chances of returning to the tennis court were 100 percent. That’s not too surprising considering Taylor’s passion for the sport and determination to return to his top form.
Early in Taylor’s hospital stay, doctors gave him their own set of odds. They told the Mount Pleasant High sophomore that he had a 50-50 chance – of living.
Only a few months removed from open-heart surgery, Taylor expected to play his first match this season April 21 in Mount Pleasant’s regular season finale against Monroe’s Central Academy of Technology and Arts.
Before the season, he was penciled in as the Tigers’ No. 1 singles seed, an honor he reclaimed during his way back to the team this month.
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Despite his absence from regular season play, Taylor will still be the favorite to win the Rocky River 1A/2A tournament when it is played April 23 at Monroe High. Should he place in the top four, Taylor will qualify for the 2A Midwest regionals that will be held May 1 in Lexington.
“I cannot tell that any of his skills have diminished,” said coach Elizabeth Webb. “His serve, everyone says he hasn’t taken anything off that serve. He has all that power. I can’t wait to see him play a full match.”
Last year, Taylor was Mount Pleasant’s No. 3 player as a freshman. He made a reputation for himself with his play, an imposing left-handed serve and an imposing 6-foot-10 build.
Taylor is also the tallest percussionist in the Mount Pleasant marching band, which takes up a lot of his time from late summer through the end of football season. In December, Taylor was revving up his tennis game, training with AMP Tennis owner/instructor Chad Oxendine five days a week.
On Jan. 5, the first day of school after winter break, Taylor came home not feeling well. Taylor was diagnosed with the flu because of the symptoms he shared with many other flu victims.
But Anita Arnold, Taylor’s mom, says her “mommy senses” took over by the following weekend when Noah had trouble lifting his head off the couch and remembering what year it was. He was taken by helicopter to Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte.
In Charlotte, Noah was diagnosed with a staph infection, which caused endocarditis, an inflammation of the inner layer of the heart. The infection also affected one of his heart’s valves, which had been deformed since birth.
On Jan. 15, Noah had open-heart surgery. His hospital recovery included time in intensive care and progressive care units. He was released on Feb. 20.
During his recovery, Noah asked his mother to bring him his tennis racquet so he could practice his strokes and get used to gaining his balance with a racquet in his hand.
Oxendine hung posters of professional tennis players Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova in his room as inspiration. Webb visited him a few times.
By March, Webb was compiling a team that had just one returning player: senior Tyler Dorton. He was Mount Pleasant’s No. 5 player last year. In Taylor’s absence, Dorton was thrust into the No. 1 spot. Webb talked seven other inexperienced players into playing on the team.
The Tigers have struggled with Taylor out of the lineup. His teammates realize Mount Pleasant will be a different team with him, but it’s a little too late for anything magical to happen this year.
“I’ve been missing him,” said Dorton. “We thought we’d have a really good doubles team. But I’m glad he’s out here now.”
When Taylor, an honor roll student, returned to Mount Pleasant High on March 11, the team hung a banner at the school’s entrance to welcome him back. By that time, he was intent on playing tennis again this season.
“It was my stubbornness,” said Taylor. “It was me asking when can I play, when can I play.”
Doctors released Taylor to play recreationally but told him to “not overdo it.” Taylor was encouraged enough by the results of a stress test he took on April 2 that he felt he would be ready to play competitively by this week.
Taylor continues to be monitored by doctors and he will have a leaky heart valve repaired over the summer. Still, he’s strongly considering playing a couple of junior tennis tournaments.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.