THE BLOG
02/15/2014 12:21 am ET Updated Apr 16, 2014

Phoenix Suns Player Channing Frye Uses Personal Experience to Educate Others About Heart Disease

French Renaissance man, Blaise Pascal, once proclaimed, "The heart has reasons that reason cannot know." For Phoenix Suns Power Forward/Center, Channing Frye, Pascal's musing perfectly sums up the the last 16-months.

At the tail end of the 2011-12 NBA season, Frye, suffered a torn labrum. The injury would sideline the NBA veteran for the rest of the season. Yet, in the wake of the injury, Frye remained optimistic and worked hard to ensure his return to the NBA.

I was doing a lot of cardio and training. I felt great. My weight was down. However, I felt like I wasn't recovering like I should be. I kept feeling like I was out of shape, so I pushed myself more. I kept thinking I'd get over the hump, and get my second wind.

As Frye moved forward in his recovery and continued pushing his body to the boundaries he knew, he would come to find out that his heart had other plans. At the time, an eight-year veteran of the NBA, Frye was well-accustomed to the pre-season physicals the league mandates for its players. Walking into his physical in 2012 after spending months rehabbing his shoulder, Frye felt no worries or concerns. Within hours, though, that would change.

Frye recalled the moments leading up to one of the most difficult times in his NBA playing career.

On the day of the physical, I had worked out that morning. Afterward, they said I needed to go in and get my routine echo(cardiogram). I took my test and they were looking at me like, "Are you okay?" When I saw those looks, I looked at them like, "I just don't want to be on this stupid treadmill!"

Soon enough, Frye would realize that the looks of the doctors and professionals around him were serious. "They said they had to bring in another doctor. That doctor came in and told me to stop what I was doing to come in tomorrow for another test," Frye recalled. In the days following, Frye underwent a full-spectrum of tests and traveled to Minnesota's Mayo Clinic to confirm what the Suns' doctors expected: Frye had dilated cardiomyopathy.

Dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease that impacts the muscle of the heart, causing it to not pump blood as efficiently as a healthy heart would. The disease occurs more frequently in men than women, and generally occurs between the ages of 20-60. While highly treatable, when left undiagnosed, cardiomyopathy has been known to cause sudden death. In 2011, 16-year-old high school basketball player, Wes Leonard, collapsed and died after hitting the game-winning shot for his team. An autopsy later revealed that he was suffering from cardiomyopathy. Similarly, in 1990, then Loyola Marymount University basketball player, Hank Gathers, collapsed and died on the court. Like Leonard, Gathers' cardiomyopathy was undiagnosed.

Frye's diagnosis meant that he was held out of physical activity until doctors cleared his heart as being healthy enough to compete in physical activity. Doctors estimated it would be between six months to one year before Frye, who has played basketball since childhood, could possibly return to the sport. "That kind of rocked me to my core. That rocked my family. You go into shock. It made me look inside as to who I am as a person outside of basketball," Frye explained.

The heart has reasons. And in the wake of a terrifying diagnosis, Frye would find the reasons for his existence outside of basketball. Frye, who is married with two children, said, "I tried to really learn about myself and who I am and how I can be comfortable by myself. I literally spent most of my time with my family trying to make up for lost time."

With his options for physical activity limited, Frye turned to yoga. There, from instructor Angie Fie, Frye learned a lesson that he hopes to use to positively impact others:

Water flows where there are open creases. Very rarely, if it rains heavily is it going to flow over the rock; rather, it is going to work its way through the cracks. What I want to do, is fill in those cracks. I want to fill in where there's a cause that hasn't really been exposed yet. I want people to see that every cause needs a chance to be exposed.

For Frye, the cause he wants to expose is utilizing his experience to educate others of the benefit of testing. In particular, he wants to encourage state legislatures to adopt testing requirements for high school student-athletes.

Life changes you. There is always going to be something that gets my fire going that makes me say, "Look, I need to take care of this right now." Right now, that thing is heart issues. I'm trying to put my energy into finding new ways of helping people get tested and exposing kids to testing. It saved my life.

With his reason known, Frye has used the struggles he endured after his diagnosis not only to help others, but to improve himself. Ahead of the 2013-14 NBA season training camp, Frye was cleared to play. Going into the NBA All-Star break, he has played in every game for the Suns and has only missed one practice for personal reasons. "My yoga teacher told me that the biggest cause of stress is what happened in the past instead of looking at what is in the present. For me, this is an opportunity to learn about myself," Frye remarked.