Santa Clara athlete faces life-changing medical decision, makes comeback

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (KTVU) – A Santa Clara student athlete was forced to make a life changing decision.

Andrew Papenfus was student manager for the Santa Clara basketball team when he transferred to a small school in Hawaii so he could actually play. He returned to Santa Clara a year later, as a full-fledged team-member.

Then, just before his senior season, while coaching kids at summer camp - he fell over and had a seizure. It was the symptom of a brain tumor.

"A group of doctors come in. You can see the concern on their face and they're like, ‘the scan reveals you have a brain tumor.' One minute you're having a great time coaching kids to all of a sudden now you have a brain tumor, within a matter of a few hours, it was pretty crazy," he said.

Doctors were confident the tumor was benign, but just to be safe, it had to come out. This left Andrew with the biggest decision of his life – he could have surgery immediately or delay it until after the season he had waited so long to experience.

"They said, ‘you know we want to get the tumor out,' but they gave me the option that ‘because it's benign or because of the grade it's at right now, you could play your senior year and then have surgery in the spring and be fine,'" said Andrew.

He says he sat on the decision for about two months before making it. "I just came to the conclusion that my longevity, my health, and the academics are my first and then basketball is kinda my third on my list, so I figured what's one year of basketball versus 20 years of like this or that so I decided it's best to get it taken out, and if basketball was in my cards I was gonna make a comeback play and if not, I had different plans."

So in October, while his team was prepping for the season, Andrew had brain surgery followed by rehab. "A lot of time just resting and let the brain re-work itself," he said.

Andrew knew that by the time he was medically cleared to return to action, his senior season would be mostly, if not completely wiped away. So he set an ambitious goal – to be in the starting lineup on senior day in his final game at Leavey Center.

"Just to have him walk out on the court, much less suit up and be able to play, was such a blessing. There were a lot of ups and downs, but that was definitely an up. He was bound and determined to show everybody out there he could do it, and by God he was out there starting against St. Mary's. How cool is that?" said Andrew's dad.

Andrew made the most of the moment, in his first career start against a heaviliy-favored rival. He recorded two steals, an assist and a rebound in five glorious minutes. Santa Clara ended up winning the game.