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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Andrew Giancola winced in pain, shifting in his hospital bed.
By JOE SMITH
Published February 27, 2007
CLEARWATER - Andrew Giancola winced in pain, shifting in his hospital bed.
He had just come out of surgery to repair his collapsed right lung. Three tubes stuck out from his chest, draining fluid and feeding air. Morphine and other medications kept him groggy.
He looked at his mother, Marti, and asked:
"Do you think it matters to coaches how much someone goes through just to play a sport?"
Eight months later, Giancola prepares to lead Calvary Christian into the Class A semifinals Wednesday at the Lakeland Center.
"I just feel blessed to be playing," he says.
Giancola suffers from spontaneous pneumothorax, a condition that has caused his lungs to collapse three times in the past 15 months.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior guard and co-captain had corrective surgery on his right lung in June. But four months later, while watching the Florida State-Florida football game, the left side collapsed, forcing him to be hospitalized for five days.
Giancola was treated and cleared to play by his surgeon in December. A motivational leader, he is a big reason the Warriors 28-2 are in their first state final four, playing Gainesville The Rock at 11:30 a.m.
"He's back to the Andy of old," Calvary Christian coach Dave Bintz said. "He's diving on loose balls, attacking the basket. He's playing with no fear."
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It was just over a year ago when Giancola grew anxious over the sharp pain in his chest he felt while sitting at the dinner table. Soon, he would find out it was a collapsed right lung.
"I was freaking out," Giancola said. "I didn't know what was going to happen."
Nor do his doctors know why.
It is unclear why 9,000 Americans each year suffer from spontaneous pneumothorax; it's not always hereditary, nor is it sparked by physical injury or lung disease, Mease Countryside thoracic surgeon Rick Schmidt said.
"The lung, basically, is an air-filled sponge surrounded by Saran wrap," he said. "Certain people (with pneumothorax) develop little half-inch blisters or bubbles called blebs atop the lung. For some reason, the blebs pop, causing air to leak out of the lungs."
The bursting of blebs can be caused by a large cough or strenuous weightlifting, "but the majority is out of the blue," Schmidt said.
The condition is typically not life-threatening; a small pneumothorax will resolve itself in one to two weeks. But a larger pneumothorax, like Giancola suffered, requires chest tube management, where a person is hospitalized while his lung is re-expanded. When it happens twice to the same lung, corrective surgery often is performed, Schmidt said.
Giancola's first onset came in October 2005. He shrugged off pain in his back and chest for a week, thinking it was just a pulled back muscle. At its worst, Giancola said, "it's like walking around with the wind knocked out of you."
Each time, Giancola has returned to the court after about a month. He doesn't need special preparations or trainers. When tubes are in for treatment, "it's the worst pain I've ever felt," Giancola said. But after recovery, he feels like a normal teenager.
The 18-year-old, who lives on the bayou in Tarpon Springs, said he has stopped skim-boarding. But basketball, that he'll never give up.
Giancola averages nine points, four rebounds and four assists a game; a vocal leader, he pushes his teammates with motivational speeches, along with his gritty play.
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Bintz said there was a signature moment where he felt Giancola was back to form.
Giancola said he plays tentatively the first few days after he returns from treatment. Bintz was nervous at first putting Giancola on the court, but soon stopped looking at him as if he were "a ticking time bomb."
Soon, the senior would prove why. In a mid-December matchup against McKeel Academy, Giancola started strong, driving for a layup. Then he sank two turnaround jumpers before hustling back downcourt.
Bintz pointed toward Giancola's parents, Andy and Marti, in the stands.
"Andy's back!" he shouted.
. A closer look
What happens: Sudden collection of air or gas in the chest that causes the lung to collapse in the absence of a traumatic injury to the chest or lung.
What causes it: Half-inch blisters or bubbles called blebs form on lung. When they burst, air leaks out.
Who it impacts: About 9,000 Americans a year, most often among tall, thin men between 20 and 40.
How it's treated: A small pneumothorax will resolve itself in one-to-two weeks. Larger pneumothorax require either needle aspiration or a chest tube.
Wednesday: Class A - Calvary Christian (27-2) vs. The Rock (25-7), 11:30 a.m.; Class 5A - Lakewood (28-2) vs. Jacksonville Lee (24-7), 7 p.m.
Where: The Lakeland Center
Tickets: $9 per session, parking is $5.
Directions: Take Interstate 275 East to Interstate 4 East to exit 31 (Kathleen Road). Turn right on Kathleen Road and continue to Sikes Boulevard. Bear right at the yield sign and turn right at the second traffic light (Lime Street). The Lakeland Center is on the right.
On the Web: Times staff writer Joe Smith will post live updates of both semifinals at http://blogs.tampabay.com/preps/.