Former Boston Celtics champion Scot Pollard waits in hospital for heart transplant

BOSTON — BOSTON (AP) — At 6-foot-11, Scot Pollard’s size helped him play more than a decade in the NBA, earning him a championship ring with the 2008 Boston Celtics.

Now it may be killing him.

Pollard needs a heart transplant, an already dire predicament that is made more difficult by the fact so few donors can provide him with a pump big and strong enough to supply blood to his extra large body. He was admitted to intensive care at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center on Tuesday, and he will wait there until a donor surfaces who was big enough to be a match.

“I’m staying here until I get a heart,” he said in a text message to The Associated Press on Wednesday night. “My heart got weaker. (Doctors) agree this is my best shot at getting a heart quicker.”

At nearly 7 feet tall and with a playing weight of 260 pounds, Pollard’s size rules out most potential donors for a heart to replace the one that — due to a genetic condition that was likely triggered by a virus he contracted in 2021 — has been beating an extra 10,000 times per day. Half of his siblings have the same condition — as did his father, who died at 54, when Scot was 16.

“That was an immediate wake-up call,” Pollard said in a recent telephone interview. “You don’t see a lot of old (7-) footers walking around. So I’ve known that my whole life, just because I had that seared into my brain as a 16-year-old, that -- yeah, being tall is great, but I’m not going to see 80.”

A 1997 first-round draft pick after helping Kansas reach the NCAA Sweet 16 in four straight seasons, Pollard was a useful big man off the bench for much of an NBA career that stretched over 11 years and five teams. He played 55 seconds in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ trip to the NBA Finals in 2007, and won it all the following year with the Celtics despite a season-ending ankle injury in February.

Pollard retired after that season, then dabbled in broadcasting and acting. He was a contestant on the 32nd season of “Survivor,” where he was voted out on Day 27 with eight castaways remaining.

Although Pollard, 48, has been aware of the condition at least since his father died in the 1990s, it wasn’t until he got sick three years ago that it began to affect his quality of life.

“It feels like I’m walking uphill all the time,” he said on the telephone, when he warned a reporter that he might need to cut it short if he got tired.

Pollard tried medication, and has had three ablations — procedures to try to break up the signals causing the irregular heartbeats. A pacemaker implanted about a year go only gets to about half of the problem.

“They all agree that more ablations isn’t going to fix this, more medication isn’t going to fix that,” Pollard said. “We need a transplant.”

Patients in need of an organ transplant have to navigate a labyrinthine system that attempts to fairly match the donated organs with the recipients in need. The matching process takes the health of the patient into account, all with the goal of maximizing the benefit of the limited organs available.

“It’s out of my hands. It’s not even in the doctor’s hands,” Pollard said. “It’s up to the donor networks.”

To maximize his chances, Pollard was advised to register at as many transplant centers as possible — “it’s increasing my odds at the casino by going to as many casinos at the same time as possible,” he said. But: He must be able to get there within four hours; the need to return for post-operative visits also make it difficult to get treated far from home.

Pollard listed himself at Ascension St. Vincent Hospital in his hometown of Carmel, Indiana, and last week went through testing at the University of Chicago. He traveled this week to Vanderbilt, which performed more heart transplants last year than anyone else in the country. Pollard arrived on Sunday; on Tuesday, doctors admitted him to the I.C.U.

There, Pollard will wait for a new heart – one that is healthy enough to give him a chance, and big enough to fit his oversized frame. He had been living as Status 4 — for those who are in stable condition — but now that he is hospitalized he could be eligible for Status 2, the second-highest priority.

“They can’t predict, but they are confident I’ll get a heart in weeks not months,” he texted.

Pollard acknowledged it’s strange to be hoping for a donor to surface, which is essentially rooting for someone to die.

“The fact is, that person’s going to end up saving someone else’s life. They’re going to be a hero,” he said. “That’s how I look at it. I understand what has to happen for me to get what I need. So it’s a real hard mix of emotions.”

Until then, Pollard waits with the knowledge that the same genetic quirk that helped him a basketball star — so far, the defining achievement of his life — threatens to be a defining factor in his death.

It’s something he’s known since his father died.

“I’ve thought about that my entire life,” he said. “I’m from a family of giants. I’m the youngest of six and I have three brothers that are taller than me. And people are always like, ‘Oh, man, I wish I had your height.’ Yeah? Let’s go sit on an airplane together and see how much you want to be this tall.

“It’s not like being tall is a curse. It’s not. It’s still a blessing. But, I have known my entire life that there’s a good chance I wasn’t going to get old,” he said. “And so it gives you a different perspective on how you live your life and how you treat people and all that kind of stuff.”

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