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Prep Notebook

Coach found himself in fight for life

Jeff Carter can still drain the jumper, drive the key and do virtually everything else he could do on the court when he played college basketball for Southern Oregon in the 1980s.

So when you consider what happened to the 36-year-old Rogue River boys basketball coach two weeks ago, it's downright scary. Carter was at death's door.

I've never been bed sick before in my life, Carter says. Then this happens, and it's kind of hard to understand.

Carter developed bronchitis before Christmas, not so unusual for people living in the Rogue Valley or those who ply the coaching trade. The bronchitis was followed by pneumonia after the holidays.

On Jan. 10, the viral effects of pneumonia attacked his vital organs. He came home early from his day job at Costco, thinking he had the flu and really needing some rest.

Everything shut down, Carter says. I was laying on the couch and blacked out a little. I couldn't breath much and I couldn't walk. My body went into shock.

His wife, Christine, could tell something was dreadfully wrong. She called an ambulance and he was taken to Rogue Valley Medical Center. But just being at the hospital wasn't enough.

The first night, Carter says, they only gave me a 5 percent chance of surviving.

That's one in 20. Not very good odds whether you're shooting a basketball or clinging to life.

The virus was attacking my lungs and heart, Carter says. My heart was only beating at 15 percent of the normal rate. They didn't want me to go to sleep because they were afraid I might go into cardiac arrest.

He remained in the hospital for seven days and isn't due to go back to Costco for another two weeks.

The virus damaged my heart and it will take a few weeks for it to repair, he says. The pneumonia was eating oxygen from my lungs. My heart was having to work harder to compensate for the lungs. It will take me a few weeks for my arteries and muscles to get back to normal.

Back to normal means different things to different people.

Having their father around a few more nights a week might be considered a bonus for Carter's three daughters -- ages — to 9 -- and 8-month old son. His players have carried on under the direction of varsity assistant Mike Richardson and junior varsity coach Chris Davidson.

This is the third season Carter has worked with most of his varsity players. He was the junior varsity coach the past two years and the players took even a temporary loss of their coach hard.

It was hard for me and my family and hard for my players, too, Carter says. We have a good father-son relationship. They came to see me in the hospital that Thursday. I think they were more concerned with my health than playing ball the next night.

North Valley beat Rogue River Jan. 15, which didn't sit well with the coach, even if he was hospitalized.

I told them just to play ball and be happy, Carter says. They bounced back the next night and beat Hidden Valley.

Carter had hoped to be on the bench for Rogue River's games against Henley and Mazama last weekend. But snow postponed the games for the Chieftains, who are 8-6 overall and 3-1 in the Skyline Conference.

The doctor doesn't want me to get too excited or too emotional, Carter says. In a way, having the games postponed is a blessing. I'm pretty much of a walker and talker while coaching. I'll just be doing a little more yelling and talking on the bench now. My wife will sit right behind me and monitor me. Her presence will hopefully get me through this weekend (against Lakeview and No. — Henley).

Carter hopes to have a teaching certificate in hand next year so he can have a classroom job along with his role on the court. He grew up in Oakland and attended Ohlone College after high school. Carter briefly detoured to New Mexico State in Las Cruces before joining coach Pete Barry's Southern Oregon team. He liked the Rogue Valley well enough to make it his home.

Rogue River gave him his first varsity job, and the team has carried on in his absence while he concentrates on recovering. His next checkup is in two weeks.

The doctor wants to make sure all the pneumonia is out and things are back to normal, Carter says. That's what we're all hoping. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed and hope everything will be OK.

(Greg Stiles is a Mail Tribune sports writer. He can be reached at 776-4483.)