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Mattson battles PE, signs to play hoops for Buena Vista

SIGNING WITH BUENA VISTA ­— Granada-Huntley-East Chain/Truman/Martin Luther senior forward Olivia Mattson (middle front) signs her letter of intent to play basketball for Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, next season during a media session on Nov. 15 at GHEC High School in Granada. Olivia’s parents, Brad (front left) and Jackie Mattson (front right), along with siblings Kayla and Jacob Mattson (back row), witnessed the event. (Photo by Charlie Sorrells)

GRANADA — When Granada-Huntley-East Chain senior Olivia Mattson made her official commitment to play basketball for Buena Vista University next season, area prep sports fans might have deemed the Nov. 15 event as just another signing day.

For the Jaguars’ 5-foot-10 highly-skilled multi-tasking hoopster, penning her signature on a letter of intent to the Division III program in Storm Lake, Iowa, proved the culmination of overcoming unthinkable adversity during the past two years.

“It’s been quite a journey to get to this point,” said Jackie Mattson, Olivia’s mother. “Olivia was diagnosed with PE — pectus excavatum — during the spring of her sophomore year of high school.”

Pectus excavatum is a condition where a person’s sternum and some of the ribs grow inward, creating a depression in the middle of the chest.

“For a year and a half I’d feel light-headed, didn’t breathe well, always felt tired and would pass out at times,” said Olivia Mattson.

So her parents — Jackie and Brad — made the medical circuit to find out what was creating her symptoms and how to cure them.

“The doctors started out testing her for food allergies,” said Jackie. “We visited a hematologist, heart-and-lung doctors and a lot of other specialists trying to figure out what was going on.”

Finally, a physician diagnosed Olivia with PE and upon examination, discovered only an inch separating her sternum and spine.

“The space between them was so small that the doctors couldn’t even see her heart with the internal camera,” said Jackie.

The treatment — the Nuss surgical procedure. Doctors cut into a patient’s ribs, insert a concave stainless steel bar under the sternum and then the bar is flipped to move the sternum into the proper position.

“For three months I couldn’t lift my arms above my head or it could possibly tear some of the muscles in my chest,” said Olivia. “I then had physical therapy for three months to keep the muscles in place and regain my flexibility and strength.

“After all of this time, I’m starting to get used to the bar being there, but there are times when it affects me.”

Olivia discovered one of those times during last spring’s frigid track & field season.

“When I inhaled cold air during a track meet, my lungs expanded and hit the bar — which also had gotten cold — and caused a burning sensation,” said Olivia. “I learned my lesson there.”

So, what precautions does Olivia have to take in order to compete in the “non-contact” sport of basketball?

“I’ve had moments when I’ve been hit in the chest in basketball, but most of the time I’m OK,” said Olivia. “I don’t look for contact, but it’s a physical sport and sometimes you can’t avoid taking a hit.”

Olivia and her GHEC/Truman/Martin Luther Jaguar teammates tip off the season by traveling to Valley Conference opponent St. Clair on Tuesday night.

Despite her medical condition, Olivia earned both Sentinel All-Area and all-Valley Conference honors by producing the Jaguars’ No. 2 team scoring average (13.5 points per game) and No. 2 rebounding clip (6.2 rebounds per outing) during the 2022-23 campaign.

After Olivia and the Jaguars look to make a deep run in the postseason tournament in 2024, the Jaguars’ senior standout will prepare to play at Buena Vista University next winter.

“I plan to major in social work, and I really like their (BV) program because they actually put you in the field,” said Olivia. “The BV head coach (David Wells) and my Minnesota Nice AAU coach (Pierre Ellis) are good friends, so he (Wells) saw me play AAU and we started communicating.”

Olivia said she liked the ‘community’ feel of the Buena Vista campus.

“When you attend BV, you’ll get the chance to know people right away and you won’t feel like a stranger,” said Olivia.

Olivia plans to major in drug and substance rehabilition with a minor in elementary education.

“It’s been a journey, but I’m not done with it yet,” said Olivia.

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