East Robertson lineman CJ Premer is thrilled to be playing football again.
More importantly, he is grateful for his health after a battle with mononucleosis turned into a serious heart condition in early March. He was told the diagnosis would require a 6-9 month recovery, meaning that he would miss his senior season.
“It was some of the worst news of my life,” he said. “Honestly, I went blank. It was so disappointing that I had to just put it off and not believe it was real.”
Premer began experiencing symptoms during the spring but chalked it up to seasonal allergies. He continued to work out and operate as normal, worsening the mono virus without realizing it.
“I just thought I had allergies,” he said. “I put a lot of stress on my body, and it turned into inflammation of my heart.”
A trip to the emergency room revealed that Premer had developed Myocarditis (inflammation of the middle layer of the heart wall) and Pericarditis (swelling and irritation of the membrane surrounding the heart). His liver and kidneys were also abnormally large.
Premer said the doctors told him that only one in three people emerge from those conditions without permanent heart damage. He spent five total days in the hospital – one in the emergency room and the other four at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Fortunately for Premer, he turned out to be in the lucky third. He avoided physical activity for three months in hopes that rest would solve the issue. Echo and EKG screenings at his June 13 checkup showed that his heart was healthy again.
“They didn’t find a single thing wrong with me,” he said. “The rest helped things go back to normal. I had a completely healthy heart and lung, so they gave me full clearance that day.”
Premer considers himself to be very lucky. Though he missed three weeks of school and the entirety of spring football practice, he avoided any long-term health issues.
“It’s a miracle,” Premer said. “There is a .01 percent chance that you get Myocarditis from mono. It happens maybe 10 times a year to random people. So that was very unlucky. But I also think I’m very fortunate.”
Things certainly could have been far worse. Premer’s troponin levels reached 11 at the time of his initial hospital visit – far above the average level of .04. He had to take Fentanyl shots to keep heart-attack-like symptoms at bay. If his condition had not improved, Premer was going to be added to a heart transplant waiting list.
“I went through two or three mock heart attacks,” he said. “You go through the pain and everything, but your heart doesn’t seize up.”
With the health scare behind him, Premer is now focused on getting back up to speed on the field. He lost nearly 70 pounds off most of his lifts in the weight room and his offseason conditioning progress was also diminished.
“Six months of work went down the drain,” he said. “It was crushing, but I’m happier than ever to be back where I’m supposed to be.”
Premer has returned to practice and will likely start at right guard and defensive end. He still isn’t where he was before the illness, but that is what motivates him to keep working.
“I just give it my all and try to get a little bit better every day,” he said. “I push myself, because my doctor did clear me. I want to show everybody that no matter what you go through, it can always turn better.”
East Robertson coach Atlee Pond said Premer’s return has already boosted the mood at practices.
“CJ is kind of the team’s hype guy,” Pond said. “Our team had more energy on his first day back.”
Premer, an all-honors student who plans to study aerospace engineering in college, relishes that role. And now that he has a new lease on his senior year, he plans to make the most of it.
“I love being in the middle with everyone yelling,” he said. “You feel the energy. I get up in people’s faces – that makes them mad and makes them play better. You just have to get people in the zone."