Close call with calamity

Photo courtesy J. Sargeant Reyolds CC

No one would ever accuse Fred McConnell of being a couch potato.

At 70, the program head and professor of engineering at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College (JSRCC) is slim and fit, and plays volleyball three nights a week or more.

So McConnell was not too alarmed at first when his heartburn wouldn't go away.

Even after two months, when the chest discomfort did not respond to medication and his doctor recommended a stress test, McConnell shrugged it off.

"I just had a stress test a couple of years ago," he told his doctor -- who checked his records and countered, "No, it's been seven."

In those seven years, said McConnell, stress tests have changed considerably. His 2005 test was conducted on a treadmill with the physician in the room, monitoring his reaction to exertion.

The 2005 diagnosis? Chronic heartburn.

This time, his stress test was the nuclear version, in which a radioactive dye is injected into the bloodstream to help create images of the heart muscle and valves at work. The pictures showed that one of McConnell's heart chambers wasn't filling up as it should, and he was referred to a cardiologist for a heart catheterization.

Still relatively unfazed, McConnell scheduled the catheterization -- then rescheduled it a week later so that he could play in a volleyball tournament first.

"I was afraid they'd find something," he admits now. And find something they did.

‘A real mess’
"I was only half awake," said McConnell, as he recalls coming out of the anesthesia after the catheterization. "But I remember the doctor telling me, 'You have a real mess in there.'"

Later, the cardiologist told McConnell he was surprised he had never had a heart attack -- though he saw signs that there may have been one of the "silent" variety.

McConnell consulted with a surgeon, who drew pictures of the three blockages and scheduled him for surgery two weeks later. Since McConnell was on spring break at the time, he asked the surgeon if it was okay to go back to work.

"That depends," answered the doctor. "Is your job stressful?"

McConnell chuckles as he recalls his answer.

"Not for me -- but maybe for my students!"

Finding a substitute to take over at JSRCC for the rest of the semester, McConnell underwent surgery on March 27. During the operation, a fourth blockage was found.

Nine weeks after his quadruple bypass surgery, McConnell traveled to Salt Lake City and won both silver and bronze medals at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships.

Rum and medals
More than 430 teams from around the world competed in the June championships.

A long-time member of the Richmond Volleyball Club, McConnell earned his silver medal as a member of the GROG-65 Team (pictured above) in one session, and his bronze medal in another session as a member of Team SOTA-70.

Team GROG, he says, takes its name from the acronym for "Greater Richmond Old Guys," but the name hardly fits any more. In addition to the Richmond players, McConnell has GROG teammates hailing from Texas, Colorado and Arkansas.

"Grog also was a rum drink for the British Navy," he adds, "so our uniforms have a rum bottle logo."

Last October, he won a gold medal in the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, on a 65's team that was a blend of RVC and Canadian players. In a couple of weeks, he will head to Utah for this year's Huntsman tournament, and he looks forward to it.

"The weather in Utah is beautiful this time of year," says McConnell. "And it's a well-run tournament -- like a mini-Olympics."

‘A second home’
A native of Gate City, Va., McConnell began playing intramural volleyball when he was a student at Virginia Tech. (The loyal Hokie and season ticket holder is actually a "triple dipper," having gotten his bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in civil engineering at Tech.) During grad school, he says, "we would get the gym for an hour and play volleyball instead of basketball. The faculty was really into volleyball."

Moving to Richmond in 1972 to teach at the newly-opened JSRCC, following stints at Germana and Wytheville community colleges, McConnell was invited to play in volleyball leagues that eventually formed the basis of RVC (established in 1980).

"Now it's a second home," the Glen Allen resident says of RVC.

At his other second home, JSRCC, McConnell enjoys frequent visits and contacts from former students -- who, he says with a chuckle, "are often shocked to see I'm still teaching."

His daughter, a freshman at Christopher Newport University, recently told him that she had seen his reviews online on "Rate Your Professor" and noted that the only bad rating he got was for giving too much work.

"But I've never had a student come back and say, 'You worked me too hard,'" says McConnell.

"They say, 'Thank you for kicking my butt. I wouldn't have made it at [the four-year institution attended] if you hadn't."

Not long ago, in fact, McConnell says he got an email from a 1981 graduate of JSRCC who went on to get his bachelor's degree and professional engineer license at other schools.

"He said JSRCC was the best school he attended," recalls McConnell, "with the best professors."

At an age when most people have long ago retired, McConnell has no immediate plans to stop working -- or to stop playing volleyball. In fact, he not only goes to rehab once a week, but also frequently works out on the treadmill at Shady Grove YMCA.

"I don't sit around much. I have to [stay in shape] if I'm going to be competitive," he says.

After competing in the USA Open National Championships every year for 23 years, McConnell says he can't single out any one year as his most memorable -- but admits the 2012 Open is likely to stand out in his memory in years to come.

"Any time you get to the medal stand, that's an accomplishment on its own. But nine weeks after heart surgery?" he exclaims, making it clear that his close call with calamity renders the accomplishment all the sweeter.

And McConnell has a word of advice for anyone suffering from what seems to be chronic heartburn.

"If it doesn't go away, see your doctor," he says emphatically. "Especially if you're not active."
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This week, Crime Stoppers needs your help to find the suspects vandalizing Dominion Energy equipment in Varina.

On Feb. 6 and May 3, someone shot at equipment belonging to Dominion Energy. Both incidents occurred near Kingsland Road between the hours of midnight and 3 a.m. The equipment was damaged, causing a major inconvenience to customers who lost power and posing a safety hazard to people nearby. > Read more.

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During a visit to former Varina High School football star Michael Robinson's football camp, Nelson was discussing with Robinson his excitement for the new Varina Library, whose opening last June was at that time forthcoming.
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Business in brief


Long & Foster Real Estate recently named Amy Enoch as the new manager of its Tuckahoe office. Enoch brings more than 15 years of real estate expertise to her new position, and she most recently led Long & Foster’s Village of Midlothian office. Enoch has served in both sales and management positions during her tenure at Long & Foster. Prior to her real estate career, Enoch worked in information technology and hospitality. She is a graduate of Radford University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in economics, English and history. Enoch has also received the designation of Graduate, Realtor Institute (GRI) from the National Association of Realtors, and this showcases her expertise in the fundamentals of real estate. > Read more.

Henrico recognized as a 2017 ‘Playful City USA’ community


A national nonprofit organization, KaBOOM!, has selected Henrico County as a 2017 Playful City USA community. The organization encourages communities to bring fun and balanced activities to children every day.

Henrico's selection is joined by the city of Richmond, town of Ashland, as well as the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, New Kent and Powhatan. All of the localities make up the first region completely recognized through Playful City USA. > Read more.

Gallagher Foundation serves more than 14,000 teens in first year


In its first year, The Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation reached 14,000 teens through its programs from Spring 2016 to date. The foundation is dedicated to spreading positivity and erasing stigmas by educating and creating awareness on depression, anxiety and stress among teens. CKG delivers programs at schools, community events and its West End office.

“Students are in need of the information in the workshops, whether they know it or not, and they aren’t getting it anywhere else,” said Beth Curry, Director of Health and Wellness at The Steward School. > Read more.

Henrico Business Bulletin Board

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West Broad Village’s Rock & Roll Summer outdoor concert series continues at “The Pad,” adjacent to Aloft Hotel at 3939 Duckling Dr., from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. KOS Band will perform hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s. The concert is free and open to the public. Several parking decks feature free parking. The series continues every other Friday through August. For details, visit http://www.shopwestbroadvillage.com or www.facebook.com/WestBroadVillageShopping. Full text

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