Goalie sets goal to return after heart surgery

| Sunday, June 22, 2014, 11:42 p.m.

So many times throughout his hockey career, former Hampton goaltender Cam Raidna has looked down to his chest, skates or the ice to track a puck and make a save.

But after open-heart surgery June 12 left Raidna with an 11-inch scar running from the bottom of his neck to above his belly button, keeping his eyes focused straight ahead was all Raidna could do.

“I didn't look down for a couple days,” Raidna said. “I didn't want to.”

Three months after playing his final high school hockey game and a week after receiving his diploma, Raidna, 18, endured a pair of lengthy surgical procedures last week to fix a faulty aortic valve that has affected him since birth.

The operation, called the Ross Procedure, took nearly seven hours to complete at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville.

The procedure essentially involves replacing the aortic valve with Raidna's pulmonary valve, then replacing the pulmonary valve with a cadaver valve and wrapping the whole thing in Dacron to keep it from expanding.

However, since one of Raidna's arteries was kinked, he had to undergo a second surprise procedure, this one running about three hours. It began at 3 o'clock last Friday morning.

Yet Raidna, who's now taking blood-pressure medication and a beta blocker, expects to go home next Thursday as planned, and has maintained his sense of humor.

A tweet of his the day before surgery: “I mean, who wouldn't want a (tough guy) scar on their chest.”

“The first couple days were a little rough,” Raidna said by phone from his hospital bed at Children's. “Saturday was a bad day. A little restless. Other than that, I'm just taking it day by day. I'll be out of here soon enough. No point stressing or worrying about it.”

Friends, family and teammates can do nothing but marvel at Raidna's attitude.

Not only does he want to continue playing hockey, but he's been relentlessly positive throughout the process.

“Cam has the ability to really understand situations, to find out what needs to get done and make it happen,” Hampton hockey coach Matt Ranallo said. “This is no different.”

In 61 career PIHL games, Raidna was 34-21-5 with 10 shutouts, a 2.87 goals-against average and a .887 save percentage.

Ranallo has compared Raidna to longtime New Jersey Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur for his communication, stature and ability to take away shooting angles with strong positional play.

Though he's at least seven weeks away from resuming anything close to normal activity, Raidna doesn't see this as an end to his hockey career. He plans to walk on at Slippery Rock, an upper-level club program.

“He's a real tough kid,” said Tom Raidna, Cam's father. “Through this I've grown to respect that even more about him. He's been very competitive athletically, but you never know when this type of thing comes along — how anyone's going to react. He's a principle-based kid, a character kid. That's how he's approaching this as well.”

Cam Raidna's best friend, rising Hampton senior Michael Stritzinger, has been awestruck by how calm his former teammate has been.

“To see anyone who's 18 getting open-heart surgery … I think of my pap. He just turned 60, and he had to get open heart surgery a couple of months ago,” Stritzinger said. “Cam has handled this better than anyone else I could imagine.

“If it was anyone else, they would probably be all depressed, all upset about getting it. But Cam is still viewing it as another obstacle in life.”

This actually was Raidna's second serious heart operation. At 9 months, Raidna's aortic valve didn't close all the way, so doctors inserted a cardiac catheter that was supposed to last 10 years.

Raidna will turn 19 in August.

Because Raidna's aortic root grew past 5 millimeters, doctors recommended having something done. Raidna and his family wanted the procedure completed before college.

Raidna, who has played hockey nearly his entire life, chose the Ross Procedure — as opposed to having a mechanical valve inserted — because it offers the best chance for him to continue playing the game he loves.

“As soon as the doctors clear me, I'm going to be out there,” Raidna insisted.

That's not a little nuts?

“I know. It's crazy,” Raidna shot back. “But all for the love of the game, right?”

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jmackey@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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