When Coppell junior Lauren Rios went to a physician last summer to get a physical to participate with the girls golf team, the test results revealed something more significant than your average ailment.
The doctor heard a murmur in her heart.
After a visit to the cardiologist, it was discovered that Rios was born with an atrial septal defect, which is a hole in the wall between the two upper chambers of the heart.
Rios was stunned. She never knew that she had a problem with her heart, never experienced any shortness of breath. She was always active, with gymnastics and golf being her favorite activities. Yet, she remained calm.
At first, the cardiologist suggested that she visit a cath lab to close the hole. The plan was to insert a catheter. The situation changed after Rios’ mother, Janet, a nurse at Baylor, Scott and White of Grapevine, saw the hole was “a tad bit smaller than a golf ball.” It was too big for a catheter.
Open heart surgery was now the best option.
"I just tried to not think about it, because it is something that is kind of scary,” Lauren said. “I didn't want to be overwhelmed by it. So, I just kind of put it off to the side. Even though I was going to have surgery, I thought of the positive outcomes that I was going to have."
The surgery was scheduled for Dec. 17, 2019.
The necessity of having the surgical procedure wasn’t urgent. Rios was told that she could have waited until she was a young adult to have the procedure done, but in her mind, it was better to get it over with as soon as possible.
Rios went into surgery at 8:30 that morning. Janet and her husband, Carlos, sat in the hospital’s waiting room for the next five hours as their daughter went under the knife.
"Of course, I was very nervous, and so was my husband,” Janet said. “But, we just took it one day at a time. Once we saw how she reacted after her surgery, how her recovery went, and how young and healthy she was, gosh, we shouldn't have been as nervous."
By 1:30 p.m., Lauren was moved to a room in the hospital to start her recovery. Carlos and Janet saw their daughter for the first time since she was wheeled into surgery. Lauren experienced very little discomfort.
The next day, fifteen hours after the completion of her procedure, Rios was walking around the hospital.
It was only a few weeks later that she returned to the hallways at Coppell High School, although she had to have help to carry her backpack.
“I did not like it (not being able to carry a backpack) because sometimes my friends would forget me and I would have to call them,” Rios said. “Then, they would have to come to the other side of the school.”
By the end of January, she was back to doing the school activity that she had greatly missed: golf. Doctors had not yet cleared her for a full swing of the golf club. She was restricted to putting.
“The first few weeks, it was a lot of putting drills that I don't focus on as much,” Lauren said. “That really helped my technique and eventually helped to improve my short game altogether. If I didn't have a good approach or drive, it helped me to save par or give me more birdie opportunities.”
Of course, Rios’ physical condition is always being monitored. She visited a physician in January for a follow-up visit, but there hasn’t been a need for an appointment ever since. Going forward, she is scheduled for a follow-up visit once every six months and has to get a yearly echo-cardiogram.
As Lauren’s physical condition has improved, so has her golf game.
Rios provided a big boost to what was a young, but very talented Cowgirl golf team on Feb. 28-March 1, shooting scores of 80 and 70 to finish in a tie for first place at a two-day tournament in Granbury.
“The first day, I was kind of nervous going out and playing in front of a bunch of people,” she said. “It was really a first-day kind of thing. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't have any high goals. But, I came back on the second day and played really well. My short game, I did well to shoot 2-under and I tied for first. I had a little more confidence in myself and my short game was on. My approach shots were closer to the hole.”
Coppell head girls golf coach Jan Bourg said she was excited for Rios to perform that well, given that she had only undergone open heart surgery only two months prior.
“I was going to be OK with anything, and I knew that she was such a hard worker, that if she didn’t play well, that’s to be expected,” Bourg said. “I knew that she had been working really hard on her short game. I was just really happy for her because it was such a confidence booster for her to know that she got back out and can shoot low scores.
“She’s always been one of the lower scorers, if not the lowest scorer for our team. The other girls on the team were excited to have her back. Granbury was an out-of-town tournament. It was a good time for her to join back up with the team. It was quality time, not just at practice, but eating out with us and staying in a hotel. We were so excited after that tournament.”
Rios competed in another tournament during spring break, where she shot scores of 76 and 75, but the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on Coppell’s season on April 17.
“I think that we would have had a really good chance at going to state, and if we did, we could have placed in the top five, top three,” Rios said.
Coaches at Coppell understand the significance of Rios’ comeback, voting for her to be the recipient of the Fighting Heart Award, which recognizes the school’s top female athlete for that school year.
Rios shared team MVP honors with fellow junior-to-be Mia Gaboriau.
This summer, Rios won the DFW Elite Golf Tournament at Texas Rangers Golf Course on June 2, which qualifies her for the Texas Cup, to be held in July at TPC Four Seasons Las Colinas.
With every golfer returning next year for Coppell’s top varsity team, the Cowgirls hope to make a run at the Class 6A state championship.
“I would say that I’m at 100 percent,” Rios said.