Heart of a champion: Arbegast feels support of wrestling community

West Fork eighth-grader Rafe Arbegast holds up the Grand View University NAIA National Duals trophy the head coach brought by when he visited Rafe in the hospital recently. Arbegast underwent his fourth heart surgery. (Submitted photo)

SHEFFIELD – Rafe Arbegast is a young man of few words when it comes to talking about his medical history.

The 14-year-old eighth grader at West Fork just wants to be active.

He wants to play football, baseball, hang out with friends, and of course, he wants to wrestle.

That is because wrestling is in his blood: his older brother, Jarel, became the first West Fork state finalist wrestler in the school’s history, his dad (Jared) is the wrestling coach and his mom Jeana’s brothers all wrestled.

However, a heart murmur he was diagnosed with at two months led to his fourth heart surgery, three of them being open-heart procedures, and has kept him from the mat with his latest on Jan. 8.

The problem, Jeana said, was with his pulmonary valve and he had his first open-heart surgery at seven-months-old.

“We spent the next five months trying to overcome challenges, trying to get him a little bigger, by the time we did his first surgery, he had a nasal feeding tube that I was having to spend 10-12 hours a day feeding him through,” she said. “The doctors went in and were able to remove the pulmonary valve, which is the only one you can remove and live without, and they put patches in his pulmonary artery to enlarge it, so the blood flow would be better.”

His second open-heart surgery came in 2012 when they found his heart was becoming enlarged, in which a pulmonary valve was placed and patches in the artery above the valve to make them bigger. According to Jeana, they go for a check-up every six-to-nine months and just six months after the second one they found out that never worked quite right, one side of it tended to stay open.

The entire story will run in the Jan. 24 print editions of the Sheffield Press and Pioneer Enterprise.