Having a big heart runs in Ray Bradley Jr.'s family, and it's not necessarily a good thing.
At least, they think it does. Eight years ago, Bradley, 31, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart enlarges, stretching the muscle so it is weak and thin, unable to pump blood efficiently through the body.
"My heart is twice the size it should be," Bradley said. "It's not pumping that well because it's so big."
In most cases, the cause of the condition is unknown, but in the Bradley family, the cause seems to be hereditary.
According to the Cardiomyopathy Association, about 20 to 40 percent of people with cardiomyopathy are found to have one or more relatives with the condition.
The Bradleys have had several family members die of the disease, but the family believes they were either misdiagnosed or it was assumed they had heart attacks. Bradley's younger sister Chrysantha fell ill with the condition and received a heart transplant two years ago.
"My sister's heart was worse than mine," said Bradley. "That's why she got a transplant."
Bradley has taken medication every day for the last eight years, and his condition has neither improved nor worsened. Symptoms of the condition have left Bradley unable to be active in softball or volleyball, both of which he played with a passion.
"I'm very disappointed not to play softball," Bradley said. "I've gone from always active to bedridden, and it's kind of hard."
Bradley will leave for Seattle to have tests done that will determine whether he is eligible to be on the waiting list for a transplant. The operation would enable him to return to a level of activity more suitable to his tastes.
"I don't mind getting out of town every once in a while, but I will be basically by myself in Seattle," Bradley said. "I just like it here, being around friends."
The costs associated with a heart transplant are high. The operation itself is costly, and when Chrysantha was in Seattle for her operation, her parents Ray Sr. and Christina Bradley split their time between home and Seattle.
"My parents had to run two households, one here, one in Seattle," Bradley said. "Fund-raising helped."
To alleviate those costs while his sister was in the hospital, Bradley gathered members of his men's softball team, all of their wives and the coach to host a spaghetti feed to raise money for Chrysantha's expenses.
"People also chipped in miles so (my parents) could travel back and forth," Bradley said.
Now that Bradley is following in his sister's footsteps, a group of his friends and teammates decided to raise money for his cause.
Bradley's friends are hosting a benefit co-ed softball tournament in his honor on May 25 and 26. Anyone 16 years of age and older can register with a team or individually. Individual players will be placed on a team. The registration fee for a team of up to 15 people is $100, and individuals pay $10.
"Anyone can participate," said coordinator Michelle Tagaban. "You don't have to be a Juneau Softball Association member."
The first games will begin around 9 a.m. at Dimond Park, and the tournament will last as long as there is daylight. In addition to tournament play, there will be a homerun derby in which participants buy a specified number of pitches. The person with the most homeruns wins a prize.
There will be a raffle at the field, with T-shirts, six-packs of soda pop and other small prizes to be given away. A hot dog cart will be available to cater to hungry participants and spectators.
Donations will be taken at the field, and there is an account set up in Bradley's name at Wells Fargo Bank.
To register a team or an individual for the Ray Bradley Jr. Co-ed Softball Tournament, contact Michelle Tagaban at 790-2429, the Juneau Softball Association at 463-3633 or Carrie McMullen at 465-5333.
"I think the tournament's awesome," Bradley said. "I know there's a lot of people behind us. I feel good about it, but I feel sorry I can't be out there playing with them."
Emily Wescott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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