Minus a Rib, an Athlete Becomes Complete

October 25, 2011
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St. Mary’s High School Senior Dante Vinciarelli of Lynn is shown at the Lynn YMCA with senior program director Gregg Ellenberg.

Dante Vinciarelli is a senior at St. Mary’s High School where he has played football, ice hockey, and baseball.

He is also a national-caliber judo competitor who had Olympic aspirations.

But that dream and his high school athletic career were sidetracked last December when he was diagnosed with a serious health problem. Vinciarelli underwent surgery in March that resulted in the removal of one of his ribs.

According to Dante’s mother, Denise, her son suffered from thoracic outlet (the area between the rib cage and the collarbone) syndrome that may have been caused by his repetitive use of muscles during his constant training as an elite athlete.

“The muscle impinged on the vein and it did not allow the vein to get to his heart so he had an almost-fatal blood clot to the heart,” said Denise Vinciarelli. “Doctors at the Children’s Hospital did eight hours of emergency surgery to remove the clot and they felt they should remove a rib to allow the vein to have more room to pump in more blood.”

Dante, 17, was on medication during his rehabilitation period and had to miss some school but he has recovered well and been cleared to return to sports.

“Sports is his love and I fully support his decision to return to athletic competition,” said Denise Vinciarelli. “The doctors said the reason he was able to recover so quickly was because he was in such good aerobic health.”

This past summer Dante took a job in the Lynn YMCA CORE Program, serving as a counselor to youths. Dante impressed administrators with his work ethic and the way he interacted with kids in the program that is based on the core values of the YMCA: honesty, respect, caring, and responsibility.

“Amy Croce (youth program coordinator) said Dante did a great job as a counselor and was impressed with how well he interacted with the kids,” said Gregg Ellenberg, senior program director at the Lynn YMCA. “We want our kids to be around role models and we look for people who have overcome challenges and showed great progress and stood out with their determination like Dante has in his life. It was a natural fit for our program to have an outstanding young man like Dante working here.”

Dante said the combination of his work at the YMCA, the support of his friends and classmates, and the encouragement from administrators at St. Mary High School such as Principal Carl DiMaiti helped him bounce back with a renewed zest for all aspects of his life including his academics and athletics.

“Mr. DiMaiti was extremely supportive of Dante and I know he appreciated it a lot,” said Denise Vinciarelli.

Dante has begun the long road back to resuming his athletic career. He is working out with his hockey teammates and is confident he can earn a spot in coach Mark Lee’s highly competitive program.

All I want to do is play hockey and be back on the ice with my teammates,” said Dante. “It’s been a tough year but I think I’m progressing well physically. I also feel that this setback showed me that I have the ability to get over anything that may be an obstacle. It will mean so much to me to put on the uniform once again in the sport I grew up playing.”

Denise Vinciarelli, a history teacher at Lynn Tech, said she saw her son’s comeback was boosted by the positive experience he had as a counselor at the YMCA.

“Every day Dante would come home from work and say, ‘I love my job,’’’ she related. “As corny as that sounds, it was the truth. I was just so happy that he had become complete. Before that, he was identified as an athlete and maybe one-dimensional. Now after seeing his commitment to the kids of Lynn, he’s become a more well-rounded person who understands that it’s important to help young kids develop and become productive adults.”

Dante, whose father, Anthony, is a Revere firefighter, said his parents’ support was crucial throughout his illness and subsequent recovery period. His sister, Antonia, an eighth grader at St. Mary’s, was also supportive.

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my parents,” said Vinciarelli, who hopes to study psychology in college. “I’m fortunate that I go to a school where the kids are so supportive of one another. I’ve made great friends at St. Mary’s, kids like Conor Black, who I met in the seventh grade. We’ve inspired each other.”

One thing is certain: Dante Vinciarelli certainly made an impact on the kids he counseled in the CORE Program at the Lynn YMCA.

“He’s cool,” said 11-year-old Jeffrey Barbosa, one of the children that Dante mentored at the Lynn YMCA. “We all look up to him. He makes everything fun and interesting.”

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