When Xavier W. Hendrix arrived on a scholarship at Southeastern University (SEU) in 2017, he aspired to star as a wide receiver for the Fire football team.
But in the twinkling of an eye, his playing career ended when a preseason electrocardiogram detected a rare heart condition. Undiagnosed, it could have killed him. Fifteen months and three surgeries later, doctors successfully implanted electrodes that burned off the defective tissues causing his rapid heartbeat.
Set to graduate April 30, Hendrix, 22, plans to enroll soon in medical school and become like the cardiologist who helped save his life. He also wants to spread the gospel after accepting Jesus as his Savior.
Hendrix’s fiancée, SEU senior nursing student Ashley Marquez, played a major role in him coming to faith in Christ and maturing in his faith walk. They regularly attend church and read the Bible together daily.
“I’ve learned so many things from doing that,” says Hendrix, a standout quarterback and wide receiver at Florida’s Palm Bay High School. “It’s helped me see how God has worked in my life. Football was my passion, but God took me away from the field so I could help more people.”
Southeastern started screening athletes in the spring of 2017 through a partnership with Who We Play For (WWPF), a Florida-based nonprofit. WWPF often provides equipment and sometimes personnel to conduct tests at participating schools.
Its origins date back to 2007 and the death of 15-year-old Rafe Maccarone, who suffered cardiac arrest on a soccer field at Cocoa Beach, Florida. His father, Ralph Maccarone, later moved back to his hometown of Pagosa Springs, Colorado, and is arranging screenings there.
The experience Hendrix had turned him and his mother, Marianne, into WWPF advocates. Xavier has shared his story at several national conferences, his high school alma mater, and multiple fundraisers. Last year he spoke at a mass screening event in Brevard County, which included an appearance by New York Jets’ safety Marcus May.
In December, Hendrix had an opportunity to participate in a Zoom call with Russell Westbrook, just after the pro basketball star’s trade to the Washington Wizards. Hendrix says WWPF’s work aligns with Westbrook’s Why Not? Foundation, which seeks to provide opportunities for low-income students. The two organizations are exploring a possible partnership.
Since Hendrix’s screening, EKGs at Southeastern alerted three other athletes to potential problems. All three later returned to action, most recently senior basketball player Madi Hecox, tested last year after transferring to SEU.
Athletic Director Drew Watson, 51, sees God working in Hendrix’s life. Not only did the former player become acutely aware of his mortality, Watson says, Hendrix received God’s guidance for the future.
“I get to see God working through something like this to change lives,” says Watson, SEU’s athletic director since 2012. “I’ve seen this in Xavier’s life and in Madi’s life. They’re both lights for God now. If not for these screenings, who knows if that would be the case?”
Although leaving with a degree in biology with a concentration in medical sciences, Hendrix’s work with the Student Christian Medical & Dental Association assures his efforts to raise consciousness on campus about heart screenings will continue.
While acknowledging convincing more schools to require screenings is an uphill battle, Hendrix remains optimistic. He hopes the U.S. takes its cue from nations such as Italy, where longtime mandatory screenings show a high success rate in detecting problems.
“It’s hard to put a price tag on someone’s life,” Hendrix says. “We protect children’s hearing and vision to play sports, but we don’t check the most vital organ, which is their heart.”