Charles LaVere, 11, right, said he decided to play soccer after seeing a newspaper ad. He’s also a Cub Scout. Photo by Eric Kluth.
Charles LaVere appears to be a normal 11-year-old soccer-playing kid, showing no signs of major heart surgery before he was even old enough to walk.
He lies on the ground during practice when play moves away from him. He won’t stop playing when the final whistle of the day blows and darkness is descending.
And he’s a target sometimes of an older brother’s mischievous side.
“I beat him up once in a while,” said Bobby LaVere, 13. “But he runs around with me a little bit and I run around with him.”
At 4 months old, Charles suffered a heart attack and was rushed from the family's home in Anchorage, Alaska for surgery in Portland, Ore.
“I took him in and the doctors thought he had pneumonia. They sent me over to the hospital to have chest x-rays,” said Charles’ mother, Birdina LaVere. “At that point, they found that his heart was leaking and his lungs were filling with fluid. He was drowning.”
On Jan. 9, 1993, after Charles began having seizures, doctors also found it necessary to remove the heart in order to reroute an artery that they believed to be the cause of the heart attack.
He recovered fairly quickly was home a month later on Valentine’s Day.
Charles shows little signs today of that long-ago trauma to his body. He is a Cub Scout and he spends weekends playing soccer with boys and girls his age in a Clovis youth league.
“I just saw an ad in the newspaper for soccer,” Charles said. “I either want to play soccer or basketball. I’m going to stick with soccer right now.”
The LaVeres moved to Clovis from California in the summer of 1995 to be closer family members.
Charles has a yearly appointment with a cardiologist to deal with a leak from the heart. On medication to lower his blood pressure and keep his heart from over pumping, Charles was given the OK to play sports.
“The doctor had, at first, said no six months ago — that he could not play soccer. He said Charles could play golf,” Birdina LaVere said. “But if Charles is allowed to rest, or if he feels a pain in his chest, then he knows he needs to stop.”
Birdina LaVere adds that treating her child as “normal” has sometimes been difficult, due to his health problems. But the family is determined to allow Charles the chance to do what he wants to do.
“It’s hard to explain, but I’ve learned to let go. If I were to smother him and not allow him to try, then he would be mad at me. But I don’t feel we’re in any danger here,” said Birdina LaVere, who nevertheless attends every soccer game and practice of her son. “Obviously, I’m concerned about all three of my children. But is there more concern about him? Yes.”