IR football coach in better health, spirits following heart attack
The Indian River athletic program received a scare earlier this week, after news spread through social media networks that varsity football head coach Ray Steele – who last fall led the team to the school’s second Division II State Football Championship – had suffered a heart attack. Prayers, concerns and thoughts were shared throughout the community as Steele, one of the most established teachers and coaches at Indian River High School, was admitted to Peninsula Regional Medical Center in Salisbury on Sunday, March 11.
After doctors set several stents to replace clogged and partially clogged arteries, Steele found himself feeling healthier and in better spirits just days later, and he was permitted to return home by Tuesday, March 13.
“The support from everyone has been absolutely overwhelming,” said Steele, who just last week was named the Division II Coach of the Year by the Delaware Interscholastic Football Coaches Association. “I had visitors, lots of calls and a lot of kind words on Facebook, Twitter and email.”
Later this month, Steele is set to be recognized with the Tubby Raymond Coach of the Year by the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association.
He noted that a quick response likely made the difference between life and death.
“The doctors told me that I dodged a bullet,” said Steele, who initially thought he was just experiencing indigestion. “I got [to the hospital] at just the right time. When something like that happens, you’ve got to get some place with people who know what they’re doing.”
Doctor’s orders have him walking for brief periods each day as his health continues to improve. In the meantime, he noted, he feels much better.
“I’m feeling a lot better,” he said. “There’s no pain, and my chest is feeling fine. I can’t lift more than 5 pounds for a while, and the doctors said I should take it easy for another week or 10 days. But I’m feeling great, and should be back at it soon.”
On social media networks this week, concern and condolences turned to praise and relief upon the spreading news of Steele’s improved health. Even rival athletic programs, such as Sussex Tech, reached out to Steele.
“For Ray and his family,” said Indian River athletic director Todd Fuhrmann, “it’s great news that he’s doing better and is back home. For every one of us in the Indian River family, it’s really good to hear that he’s doing better. Ray has been a part of this school and the athletic program for so many years, and we are all thankful that he is recovering well. We continue to keep him and his family in our thoughts and prayers.”
The news of Steele’s heart attack was particularly chilling for long-time friend and coaching peer Jim Bunting, who handed over the reins as the head coach at Indian River for the 2012 season after the two had shared the sideline for three decades.
“When you hear that news,” said Bunting, “it knocks you to your core. We were not only coaches for so long together, but we went to school together. You never expect something like this to happen to you or a loved one. At times, we think we’re immortal.”
Bunting added that he sees Steele as a younger brother, and the news hit particularly hard as he reflected upon his own family experiences. In 2008, Bunting’s brother, Delaware state Sen. George Bunting, suffered a heart attack following kidney failure. He has since recovered and received a kidney transplant.
“You hear something like that,” said Jim Bunting, “and you get weak in the knees. I remember, back when George went through it, I found myself in the hospital waiting room, somewhere I didn’t belong, somewhere he didn’t belong. But seeing him recover, and watching Ray get better, it gives you encouragement. You have to adjust your lifestyle after something like this, but everything looked fine – his blood pressure and cholesterol numbers were great. It hits when you least expect it.”
Steele added that he was sincerely appreciative of everyone’s words and support.
“It was definitely a scary experience,” said Steele. “Something like this is quite an eye-opener, and it teaches you not to take anything for granted, but it really was amazing to see everyone show their support the way they did.”
“Being the math teacher that he is,” said Bunting, “I know he’s got everything calculated. He’s a good man, and he’ll heed any warnings the doctors give him. I’m glad he’s getting back to himself again.”