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A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A heart-to-heart conversation with Mike Sermo

That’s no tattoo embroidered on Mike Sermo’s chest.
Nothing from one of those television shows like Ink Master, LA Ink or Tattoo Highway.
Sermo’s intimidating mark does not come compliments of somebody named Ami James or Kat Von D.
Nope, it is from a surgeon’s scalpel. Open heart surgery does not result in a blooming rose or a tribal design. It is a nasty scar and it is a constant reminder.
“They pull your heart out of your chest while they fix things,” said Sermo. “A machine keeps you alive and then they put it back in.”
Amazingly, the longtime assistant boys’ varsity basketball coach at Berkley never missed a day on the court this season. It was just a month after undergoing extensive surgery to repair his heart that he was back on the court with head coach David McGlown.
“It was my goal to get back in time for practice,” said Sermo, who is in his 34th season coaching basketball. “I needed something to shoot for. I love basketball and I enjoy this. These are good kids.”

Sermo spent 20 years coaching basketball at Our Lady of La Salette in Berkley. He’s been with the high school program for 14 years now.
“We’ve had some injuries,” said Sermo, looking out on the West Gym court during a recent practice. “We really do not have much size, either.”
The Bears started the season with two straight victories. Heading into Friday night’s game at Birmingham Seaholm, they were 3-7 overall, 0-2 in the OAA Blue Division.
“We have some very good sophomores who we are building the program around. The junior varsity team also has some good players who will help us in years to come,” he said.
Joe Sermo, his son, is the junior varsity coach.
For a while there, it was questionable whether Mike Sermo would be around to assess anything in the years to come. This past June, he began experiencing an overwhelming fatigue.
“I didn’t have the energy to do anything,” said Sermo. “I couldn’t cut the lawn or do any yard work because I was so tired.
“Also, my feet and ankles were so swollen I couldn’t even put on some of shoes. I did not know what was going on.”
Still, like most guys, he rationalized things. Asking a lot of men to go to the doctor is like asking them to pull the car over and get directions. It’s an affront to our manhood.
But finally, come August, he knew he had to go to the doctor. The symptoms were just too much to ignore. The doctor sent him to a cardiologist who sent him to a surgeon. While there were no blockages, a couple of valves had nearly shut down.
Sermo, 67, went in for open heart surgery on October 12. Exactly one month later, on November 12, high school basketball practice officially began.
“I feel good,” he said. “I’ve lost a lot of weight and I got my energy back. When I went to the doctor, he told me I’d gained 20 pounds. Most of that was water weight because I was retaining fluids. If I had not gone in, I could’ve had a heart attack or even a stroke.
“I just enjoy coaching. This is fun to do. I try to help everyone I can, and I enjoy working with David (McGlown) and his father,” continued Sermo.
Sermo retired from General Motors 11 years ago. He played high school basketball at St. Francis De Sales.
“Believe me, I was no star,” said Sermo, laughing. “I played most of my basketball from the bench.”
That is still his perspective. Thank God for it, too.


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