When the vein on Coach Frank Tavani's forehead starts popping out during a game, you know he's about to blow a gasket. But passion, fire and energy are required on the gridiron.
Maybe that's why the Lafayette Leopards football program has been so successful under his tenure: four Patriot League Championships, six wins over historical rival Lehigh and four trips to the NCAA playoffs.
With 15 years as head coach and 27 years with the program, stress and pressure come with the job. "When the season starts, it's a top to bottom thrill ride of emotions," says Coach Tavani. "But certain things, like that vein on my forehead, are just a part of me."
Another part of him is a long family history of heart disease.
"My grandfathers both died of heart attacks," he says. "My grandmother had two." His own father had three heart procedures: angioplasty, a stent and open heart surgery.
His father's heart eventually gave out...on national signing day. "I had to drop the phones to our top recruits and rush to dad's side," he says.
This history helped Coach Tavani learn a prevent defense. He was on blood pressure and cholesterol medicine. And two weeks before his own cardiac episode, he had his annual physical. At the time everything looked good.
Then came a night of indigestion. The next day brought more discomfort and a pain across his chest. He'd been having back spasms, so the symptoms could have been easily dismissed.
The following morning, fate intervened. "Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, the director of health services at Lafayette, has been my doctor and a good friend for years," says coach.
When Coach Tavani drove by the college health center, a parking space was open near the front door. So he stopped in.
Dr. Goldstein saw the coach's elevated blood pressure and a worrisome blip on an EKG, so he suggested Coach Tavani visit the Easton Hospital ER for some blood work.
"Now I've had my share of issues with Easton Hospital over the years," says Coach Tavani. "But I trust Dr. Goldstein who worked in their ER. Plus I know their cardiology services are top notch."
When the coach walked in the ER, he saw real teamwork. "There were nurses and staff moving in every direction as I had an x-ray, lab work, an IV and monitoring all done at my bedside," he says.
Coach Tavani was scheduled for a catheterization. While in the cath lab, the team found two blockages in his right coronary artery. A 90% blockage. Cardiologist Joseph Schiavone, MD, an independent member of the medical staff, placed three stents in the blocked artery.
"Over my days at Easton Hospital, I couldn't ask for better care," says Coach Tavani. "The doctors, nurses and staff were friendly and caring...just first class. The place has really changed."
Change is what the coach now faces...a new diet, a new exercise program, a new weightloss goal. "Losing cheeseburgers has been the hardest part," he says.
"But I am fortunate that I listened to my body," he says. "It could have been a massive heart attack."
Now he just has to listen to his body during the games...and find a way to keep that vein on his forehead from making an appearance.
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