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Whitewater girls basketball coach suffers aneurysm

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John McPoland
December 24, 2008
— “Go get my husband.”

With those four words a routine high school girls basketball game Monday night between Whitewater and Cambridge turned into a fight for life for Whippets head coach Judy Harms.


Just moments before addressing her team in the locker room, Harms suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm. Harms, 46, was transported from Cambridge to Fort Atkinson Memorial Hospital by ambulance and then flown by Med Flight to University Hospital in Madison where she underwent successful surgery Tuesday morning to seal off the aneurysm.


An aneurysm is a localized, blood-filled dilation (balloon-like bulge) of a blood vessel caused by disease or weakening of the vessel wall. Aneurysms most commonly occur in arteries at the base of the brain (the circle of Willis) and in the aorta (the main artery coming out of the heart, a so-called aortic aneurysm). As the size of an aneurysm increases, there is an increased risk of rupture, which can result in severe hemorrhage or other complications including sudden death.


“The doctor gave a perfect football analogy to describe Judy’s situation,” said husband Gary Harms. “He said she was on the goal line when she got to the hospital and they just threw a 60-yard bomb. Now she’s got 40 yards to go.”


The most crucial part of the recovery process will be the next two to three weeks. Harms will spend that period in the intensive care unit. She was awake and alert Tuesday afternoon.


The first thing she wanted to know was how her team fared Monday night. The Whippets, under the direction of assistant coach Matt Amundson, dropped a 42-38 game to the 6-0 Bluejays.


Harms began experiencing a severe headache just before the start of the game and had difficulty standing.


“My daughter (Leah, a UW-La Crosse freshman) and I were able to get in the locker room in time and help her get through that,” Gary Harms said.


An off-duty paramedic in the stands was called in to assist. He left the locker room momentarily to call an ambulance in Deerfield. Judy Harms then had a seizure while waiting for the ambulance to arrive.


The Whippets, meanwhile, took the court without knowing the full extent of their coach’s condition. Gary Harms, in fact, did not even tell his daughter, Kelsey, a junior guard, the seriousness of the situation.


Last year, Harms led Whitewater to 17-5 record and second-place finish in the Southern Lakes Conference. The Whippets bowed out in a hard-fought regional title game against Delavan-Darien.


“The doctors said 50 percent of the people who have a brain aneurysm don’t make it,” Gary Harms said. “Judy is a fighter. She’s battling.”


For now the Whippet coach will take a leave of absence. Gary Harms said there’s an outside shot his wife could be back coaching by the final few weeks of the season.


“Everybody has been calling us. We’re getting a lot of support,” Gary Harms said. “Who knows how the players are going to react. They might just rally around this situation.”


Whitewater is scheduled to play in the one-day, two-game Fort Atkinson holiday tournament next Tuesday.


Amundson, a former assistant varsity coach at Appleton West, will take over the team while Harms recovers.



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