For San Diego State center Nathan Mensah, coronavirus social-distancing mandates have meant for everyone else what it did for him over the past three months.
Work out all you want, just don’t play basketball against anyone else.
Mensah has remained in that sort of medical purgatory since late December, when he suffered what the Union-Tribune reported was a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot in his lungs treated with anticoagulant (or blood thinning) drugs that preclude contact sports for fear of internal bleeding. With the college season’s abrupt end before the NCAA Tournament, and with weeks or possibly months more of social isolation measures, there has been no urgency to clear him for contact.
According to Kwaku Amoaku, Mensah’s guardian and the founder of the African Youth Basketball Organization that facilitated his move from Ghana, the 6-foot-10 sophomore is awaiting his latest blood tests and should know more in the coming weeks about “the next steps in the process” to begin playing against others again.
The target now is mid-June. Most Aztecs basketball players don’t return to campus for group workouts until the second session of summer school, which is scheduled to begin July 7 — although, with SDSU announcing Wednesday that summer classes will be online, it remains uncertain whether athletes will be invited back on campus.
“Any time before that would be amazing and awesome,” Amoaku said, “but I also don’t think they’re going to be allowed to do anything for at least another month. June is about the time they might be opening things up and letting kids go back in the gym.”
That doesn’t mean, however, Mensah wouldn’t have played in the NCAA Tournament last month.
Mensah and SDSU officials have declined comment on the specifics of his medical condition since he last played Dec. 28 against Cal Poly, but Amoaku said “we were pretty confident” he would have been cleared for the NCAA Tournament, which for SDSU, a projected 2 seed, would have started March 20 in Sacramento.
The plan was for Mensah to have practice restraints lifted a day or two earlier instead of working out on his own on the side, his routine since mid-January.
“We were gearing up, absolutely, for him to play in the first weekend,” Amoaku said. “That was what I felt in my heart, that he would play. … He wouldn’t have started. But they were pretty confident that as good as Nathan is, it wouldn’t have taken him very long because of what he does and what he brings to the table. He’s not a jump shooter or anything like that. It would have been easier for him to step in and play (with short prep).
“Once the season got canceled, that took the stress off a little bit. It went back to where we had more time to figure out what’s going on and causing things, and what it’s going to take to get back 100% instead of trying to rush through it. With the crazy way the season ended, it probably ended up being a blessing in disguise for him — not for the rest of the squad, of course.
“But if we were (playing the tournament), I think he would have been ready to go.”
A pulmonary embolism is a blockage in one of the arteries transporting blood from the heart to the lungs, often the remnants of a blood clot that formed in the body’s lower extremities. The American College of Chest Physicians recommends, for standard cases, a minimum 90 days on anticoagulants.
That would have been the week of the Final Four.
“Because he was doing so well in his recovery, it was going to be cut a little short,” Amoaku said. “It still was going to be pretty close to 90 days.”
The anticoagulants lower the chance of a recurrence while the body, in most cases, breaks apart the blockage on its own. But that’s only half the battle. Doctors must also determine the cause of the pulmonary embolism, as best they can, to understand how to prevent future ones.
The largest study involving professional athletes, published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, examined 55 cases in the NBA, NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball between 1999 and 2016. Eighty-five% returned to play, but it took an average of 6.7 months.
Most players did not immediately have another pulmonary embolism. Those who did often were forced to retire.
“There’s always a chance of something that could happen when you have a serious medical issue, something that shows up on a test one day,” Amoaku said. “But as of now, I have a strong feeling he’ll be able to resume his career just fine.
“For a college sophomore, as young as he is, he’s handled it like a champ. He’s of strong Christian faith. He knows he’s going to play again.”
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