As the Proviso East boys track and field team competed in the annual Greg Foster Invitational on Feb. 22 at Proviso West High School in Hillside, the invitational’s famous namesake stood among the crowd of spectators. That he was standing there at all was a feat.
Just five weeks after undergoing heart transplant surgery, Greg Foster, 61, is feeling his second wind.
“This feels great,” Foster said at Saturday’s invitational. “I really didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought I’d still be in the hospital. They told me I’d be there anywhere from a day to six months or longer, so I was surprised when they told me they had a heart for me.”
On Jan. 19, Foster underwent emergency heart transplant surgery after being diagnosed with Amyloidosis, a rare condition that causes abnormal protein called amyloid to build up in the tissues and organs, according to webmd.com.
In a GoFundMe page created by his children, Foster’s son, Bryce, recalled the heady moment doctors informed his family that they had found “the perfect heart” for his father.
The qualities that made Foster an Olympian and four-time world champion in the 110-meter hurdle has helped the world-class athlete on his path to recovery.
“The donor heart was flown in from South Dakota,” Bryce said, before explaining that the surgery started at 7 a.m. and ended at 1:30 p.m. The doctors told Foster that he’d be in the hospital for up to three weeks, but Foster left after eight days, Bryce said.
During Saturday’s meet, Foster said that he’s currently “feeling fine,” but is still adjusting to his medication.
“I can’t lift weights yet, but I’m still active,” he said, before he was prompted to recall one of the most memorable moments of his high school hurdling career at Proviso East—one reminiscent of the comeback kid motif that frames his recovery from Amyloidosis.
“It was the state championship my junior year,” Foster said. “It’s the start of the hurdles. I stand up, but they never shot the second gun to signal the false start. By the time I take off, my competitors are clearing the first hurdle. I ended up winning the race, anyway.”
Foster said that he’s optimistic about the current crop of track and field athletes at Proviso East, which finished the meet fifth overall with 39 points. The team’s star, Isaiah Tyler, was the meet’s MVP. He won the high jump and the 200-meter dash, and came in second place in the long jump and the 55-meter dash, according to Marc Jones, the team’s coach.
“I think we’ve got some great kids,” Foster said, before sharing some of the wisdom he often imparts on the students he works with as coordinator of community engagement at the Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis, where he lives.
“The problem with most kids, not just at East, is that they don’t always think about the academic part as much as they should,” he said. “If I’m a college coach and you have talent, it doesn’t matter, because the first questions I’ll ask are, ‘What are your grades? What are your test scores?’ If you don’t have those, there’s really no reason for me to recruit you.”
Asked about how he’s coping with his medical bills, which he estimated to be about $1.3 million, Foster said that he’ll only need to pay about 20 percent of that total cost.
“I’m not worrying about,” he said. “I appreciate whatever [support comes].”
To donate to Foster’s GoFundMe campaign, visit: https://bit.ly/38WXanO.