Girls Basketball

Belleville East star has successful heart surgery — and could be back on the court soon

Kaylah Rainey walks two days after open heart surgery

Belleville East Lancers girls basketball star Kaylah Rainey is ahead of schedule in her recovery from surgery to fix a serious heart defect that will cause her to miss her senior season.
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Belleville East Lancers girls basketball star Kaylah Rainey is ahead of schedule in her recovery from surgery to fix a serious heart defect that will cause her to miss her senior season.

Kaylah Rainey entered St. Louis Children’s Hospital for open heart surgery last week with a basketball scholarship to Northwestern University but thinking that her high school career was over.

But on Monday, the No. 27 ranked high school point guard in the nation by ESPN learned she might be able to return to the court in late January after her successful surgery.

Performed by Dr. Pirooz Eghtesady, chief surgeon of cardiology at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Rainey’s surgery lasted six hours as the medical team repaired her anomalous left coronary artery, a heart defect the 17-year-old was born with.

Less than 72 hours after the procedure, Rainey returned home to Belleville with the knowledge that if her recovery goes well she will once again wear her Lancers basketball uniform.

“Kaylah’s spirits are up. Even though she’s a little sad tonight (Monday) because Belleville East is playing Edwardsville and she’s not there,” her father Dr. Lawrence Rainey said. “The prognosis is very good.

Dr. Eghtesady said he wanted to keep her scar minimal, cosmetically, because she’s a female athlete. He performed what’s called a ‘limited sternectomy’ cutting through her sternum approximately 3-4 inches as opposed to a traditional 8-10 inches. Because of that, the recovery time is cut in half from 10-12 weeks to six weeks.”

Rainey will return to school after the winter break. East coach Amanda Kemezys was informed Monday that Rainey, a fixture in the Lancers backcourt for the past three years, could return to the lineup. Kemezys said Rainey’s health and future come first.

Kaylah Rainey, who has starred with the Belleville East Lancers girls basketball team since her freshman year, was looking forward to closing out her career with a huge season. Instead, she'll need a surgery to fix a serious heart defect.

We are happy to hear that surgery went well and they think she will be able to make a full recovery. As far as any timeline for her to return, we always want to err on the side of caution and make sure we keep Kaylah’s health priority number one,” Kemezys said. “If she is able to make it back on the court this year that would obviously be wonderful, but we want to keep her health the main focus.”

Battling injuries to her wrist and knee for much of the off-season, the 5-9 Rainey was looking forward to a solid senior year when she went for her preseason physical in early November. Then, just days before the Lancers were to begin practice, it was announced that Rainey would be out for the season.

Lawrence Rainey called the six hours that his daughter was in surgery the longest of his life.

“It was pretty rough. They kept coming in every hour and letting us know how she was doing,” Lawrence Rainey said. “They also have a new app called EASE which allowed photo hourly updates during the surgery. It helped.”

“I know Kaylah is very excited about playing again. Dad? I’m a little nervous.. I’ll just have to learn to deal with it.”

Lawrence Rainey said that Kaylah is the subject of an upcoming story by ESPN.

ESPN reporter D’Arcy Maine and ESPN photographer Neeta Satam have been with her since Nov. 27, shadowing school, practices, home life, doctor and hospital visits and the surgery. The story will appear online and be in magazine next month or upon her return to basketball.