This college athlete listened to the warning signs. Now he’s urging others to do the same.

Twenty-one-year-old Tucker Mullen never expected to deal with heart issues at his young age. A member of the University of Virginia lacrosse team, he thought he was in perfect health.

During his first semester of his junior year at UVA, he started experiencing chest pressure, shortness of breath and significant discomfort while exercising. His doctors struggled to find the cause of the issue, and all tests came up normal, but the discomfort persisted.

With the support of his team and family, Tucker continued to search for answers. It wasn’t until a month later that his doctor suggested a cardiac MRI. That’s when Tucker started getting answers.

Tucker was diagnosed with a coronary artery anomaly (CAA), a congenital heart defect that often lies undetected. CAAs are the second leading cause of sudden death among athletes.

On November 22, 2023, the day before Thanksgiving, Tucker underwent a successful and smooth open-heart surgery.

“If I could share one message with my fellow athletes, it would be to listen to your body,” said Tucker. “I didn’t want to step back from playing, but if I had waited until things were more serious, the outcome could have been much worse.”

Since his surgery, Tucker has had minor complications that the doctors anticipated. When he more recently started to experience pain in his chest, he went to the emergency room and discovered that he is experiencing pericarditis.

Pericarditis is inflammation of the pericardium, a sac-like structure with two thin layers of tissue that surround the heart to hold it in place and help it work. A common symptom of pericarditis is chest pain, caused by the sac’s layers becoming inflamed and possibly rubbing against the heart. It may feel like pain from a heart attack.

His doctors are currently treating him for this, and he is scheduled to be cleared to begin training again on April 11, 2024.

Tucker is currently pursuing a degree in American Studies from the University of Virginia and remains on-track to graduate in the spring of 2025.