Former OU, professional athlete survives sudden, life-threatening heart issue


NORMAN, Okla. – He was a national champion at the University of Oklahoma and went on to play professional baseball.

Always healthy, Rich Hills never thought heart health would be an issue for him until an incident occurred earlier this year.

As a former Sooner standout, Hills has some fond memories from the 1990’s.

“Obviously, going to the College World Series three times is huge,” Hills said. “Winning the national championship is probably the best. We had a lot of great coaches and players.”

After playing minor league ball for several years, he stuck to his passion, teaching kids baseball while staying in shape himself.

That is – until one day at the gym this January.

“Felt a pop in my chest and wasn’t sure, got lightheaded at first and wasn’t sure what was going on,” he said.

Hills was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with an often fatal aortic dissection.

“I try to describe it as if you took a tiny hand grenade and one inch above your aortic valve, just an inch above your heart and pulled the pin on it because that’s what it looks like when you get in there,” said Hills’ surgeon Dr. Kyle Toal. “It looks like an explosion has occurred right above the heart.”

An hour after walking into the emergency room at the Norman Regional Health System, he was rushed into surgery.

His family knew they may not see him again.

“Making sure he talked to people because I honestly didn’t think he would be out,” said Rich’s wife, Kim Hills.

On Thursday at 10 p.m., doctors talk about the symptoms to look out for and how this could have been detected.

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