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Sophomore Eric Banks continues his climb back on the course after undergoing heart surgery last summer.

Thursday May 16, 2013Banks Has a Renewed Outlook after Heart Scare

Sophomore Eric Banks continues his climb back on the course after undergoing heart surgery last summer.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Sometimes they pop in unexpectedly when he is on the putting green, taking routine practice strokes on a warm sunny afternoon.

Sometimes they show up after a bad shot during a tournament, and as Gators golfer Eric Banks stews, they remind him of his good fortune.

Wherever Banks is, they usually are close by, those pauses that allow Banks to keep a bad round in perspective or a long day at school from becoming a burden.

They will be there today through Saturday at the NCAA South Regional Tournament. As Banks tries to help the Gators advance to the NCAA Championships, he'll ponder the good and bad during his rounds at the University Club in Baton Rouge.

And be thankful he is there regardless of how his scorecard looks.

"I think people take a lot of stuff for granted,'' Banks said. "I just donít take anything for granted anymore.Ē

The 20-year-old sophomore's outlook on life has changed drastically since he came to UF. Banks is a former hockey player from Truro, Nova Scotia. When he was younger he would often become fatigued during practices or games.

He made the permanent move to golf in his teens and as he developed into one of Canada's top junior players, Banks didn't give much thought to those days when he slept well but still felt more tired than usual.

He adapted and figured that was the way he was. He was good enough in golf that he signed to play at Florida. As part of Banks' introduction to UF, he underwent a physical examination in August 2011 like all student-athletes do when they get to campus.

The physical exam detected the reason Banks often felt fatigued from normal exercise. He had a congenital hole in his heart between the two atria, called an atrial septal defect in medical parlance. The hole caused blood to flow into his right atrium, which doctors discovered was three times its normal size.

When he went home for winter break, Banks underwent additional tests that confirmed the discovery at UF.

ďThat kind of started the whole thing,'' Banks said. "I didnít really want to hear that. It kind of messed with me for a long time.Ē

Banks opted to play his freshman season with plans to address the heart condition when he returned home to Canada over the summer. On June 25 in Halifax at the Maritime Heart Center, Banks underwent more than four hours of surgery to correct his heart defect.

Banks' breastbone was broken and cracked open so doctors could patch the hole.

When he woke up from surgery, the pain was excruciating for the polite and easy-going Banks. His normal disposition had left the building.

"It was a pretty scary day,'' he said. "It was very uncomfortable."

The next couple of months were grueling. Not only was golf out of the question, a simple walk to the bathroom was a chore. His parents took time off work to help him get around the house and help with his physical therapy.

The golf course seemed a faraway place that he once visited.

As a freshman, Banks played in 12 events and finished in the top 20 four times, including a tie for 16th at last spring's NCAA East Regional.

The smooth-swinging lefty showed he could be a factor for Coach Buddy Alexander's program when he got healthy.

ďItís been a long journey since last June,Ē Alexander said. ďThere were some disappointing times for him when he wasnít sure when he was going to be back to normal."

Banks slowly regained his strength last summer after the surgery. The short walks in the house turned into walks down the street. He lost approximately 20 pounds he had gained in his first year at UF through extensive training in the weight room.

"I was pretty much starting from scratch again,'' Banks said.

Banks was unavailable to play in the fall for the Gators as he recovered. Still, by September he was putting and anticipating the day he could take his first full swing with his newly constructed chest -- Banks' breastbone was reconnected with an assortment of wires that remain underneath his skin.

By October Banks could swing a driver and played his first full round since the surgery soon afterward. He would think back to those summer months when he could barely walk and was forced to spend most of his days in bed recovering.

"I never doubted I would be back,'' Banks said.

When Florida opened the spring season in February at the SunTrust Gator Invitational, Banks shot 72-71-68--211, 1-over for the tournament and in 10th place.

He was back.

In five tournaments since, Banks' best finish is a tie for 11th at the Chris Schenkel Invitational. He is coming off a 54th-place finish in the SEC Tournament in Florida's last outing.

While his game can improve, Banks' strong return put him on the right path mentally.

"If you donít do anything for 10 months, itís going to feel weird,'' he said. "I was a little nervous but not as much as I thought I would be. After the first couple of holes I felt good. It was a big positive for me to get a top 10 in the first event back.Ē

The surgery worked. Banks said he feels good and is getting stronger each day. The biggest adjustment, he said, is getting used to the metal wires in his chest.

That will take time.

"They are in there for good, so when I go into airports, people will think Iím some freaky guy,'' Banks said.

A lucky guy is more fitting. Those pauses each day remind him.


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