BETHANY — Over a six-week period from late December to early February, Putnam City West junior Tyson Jolly established himself as one of the state’s best high school basketball players.
The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 17 points and seven rebounds per game, was named the MVP of two prestigious tournaments and began to attract attention from major college recruiters all over the country.
And he did it all with a virtual ticking time bomb in his chest.
This weekend, top-ranked PC West will play for a chance to go to its second consecutive state basketball tournament, with hopes of bringing back the team’s first gold ball.
The Patriots face Lawton Eisenhower at 6:30 p.m. Friday in Choctaw with a state tournament bid on the line, and Jolly will be on the bench, frustrated that he’s unable to help. But the fact he is still alive is miraculous.
While PC West was in Miami, Fla., the last week of December, Jolly developed a hacking cough. It didn’t slow his MVP performance as the Patriots won the Jr. Orange Bowl Classic.
But after the tournament, he began coughing up blood. Diagnosed as pneumonia, he was given medicine and an inhaler, but neither worked. He rested up before the Patriots got back to action in the Putnam City Invitational the second weekend of January.
The cough wasn’t gone, and his energy level was down, but he still was named MVP in the tournament that vaulted PC West to No. 1 in Class 6A following a victory over Tulsa Union.
Over the next month, Jolly would get more tests, more pneumonia diagnoses’, more medicines and more inhalers. But nothing helped his cough or his breathing.
PC West coach Lenny Bert held Jolly out of a couple games, and the team had a long break while others were playing tournaments in late January. Then the weather postponed some games. But the rest didn’t help Jolly.
On Feb. 7, Bert pulled Jolly out of a game against Choctaw after just a couple minutes, because he could tell something wasn’t right.
Bert began communicating with a heart specialist who he came in contact with through PC West athletic director Mandy Stuber. The specialist suggested it might be a pulmonary embolism.
On the afternoon of Feb. 11, the Patriots were going through normal pre-game preparations for a game against Yukon. Jolly had already been told he wasn’t playing, but he still wanted to be around his teammates.
“At about 1:45, Coach Bert texted me and gave me the name of a pulmonary doctor at OU Medical Center,” said Jolly’s mother, Neoshia Jolly. “I called, but they said they couldn’t get him in until April. So we didn’t know what to do.”
About an hour later, as Tyson walked through the hallway toward the locker room, he passed out.
“He was trying to play it off like he tripped over his backpack,” Bert said. “But his backpack was on his back. He was sweating. I asked him what happened, and he didn’t know.”
That was the first time Tyson got scared about his condition.
“He asked me what happened and I just started crying, because I didn’t know,” Tyson said. “From then on, I was trippin’, because I didn’t know what was going on.”
As soon as he got to OU Medical Center, medical staff took Jolly to a room and started doing tests —X-rays, an EKG, a specific CT scan to look for pulmonary abnormalities.
“By 6 o’clock, the nurse comes in and says, ‘We know what it is,’” Neoshia Jolly said. “She explained to Tyson that he had a pulmonary embolism and blood clots in his lungs. Tyson, being who he is, asked the nurse when he could play basketball again.
“They said that most kids who have this, when they pass out, they don’t wake up.”
Tyson had blockages in a main artery carrying blood to each of his lungs. Inside of his lungs were seven blood clots, and he had more in the deep veins of his left leg.
He underwent a procedure to remove the clots from his lungs, and he was put on blood-thinning medication.
“They showed us the scan with the clots all over his lungs,” said his father, Latron Jolly. “And the next day, they take another scan and it’s completely clean. The clots were all gone.”
Gone, too, was the hacking and coughing that had nagged him for six weeks.
“They had me on oxygen for the rest of the day after the procedure,” Tyson said. “They took me off the oxygen, and the cough was gone.”
Tyson had lost more than 15 pounds. He is slowly starting to regain that, though he’s on a specific diet.
He might get to play basketball again sometime in the next couple months, depending on how his blood reacts to the medication. Tyson definitely plans to be back for his senior season starting in November. But for now, the Jolly family and everyone else is just glad to see Tyson getting healthy.
“God was walking with my boy, I know that,” Neoshia Jolly said. “And the people at PC West have been so helpful. We believe it takes a village to raise a kid. Right now, in our life, PC West is our village, and they take really good care of our kids. We’re just so thankful for all the people who have helped us through this.”
A week after Tyson’s procedure, a 19-year-old OU student and Putnam City North graduate, Connor Hamilton, died of the same condition. And that could’ve easily been Tyson’s fate.
“I asked the doctor how Tyson lived through it, and he said, ‘Well, let’s just say his body compensated well,’” Bert said. “I was like, ‘Compensated for his heart?’
“He talked about what good shape Tyson was in and all that, but man, I know it’s just a miracle.”