HUNTINGTON — Torin Lochow woke up and didn’t know where he was, but was certain of one thing — he had a basketball game to play that night.
The game, though, had been played 13 days earlier. The Huntington East Middle School player was in a hospital where he had been unconscious on a ventilator for nearly two weeks, having been ravaged by flu that turned to pneumonia which nearly killed him.
Torin, a senior at Huntington High, doesn’t remember much about his near-death experience, but his father Steve does. An orthopedic surgeon, Steve and his wife, Amy, a pediatrician, knew the gravity of the situation. When a crash cart was rushed to Torin’s room because he coded, they understood his life was at stake.
“It was the week before Christmas,” Steve said. “He was a healthy kid. Then he had the flu. Then 24 hours later he had pneumonia. It was incredibly difficult.”
So difficult that for nearly two years after, the Lochows didn’t talk about it. Then one day Torin jokingly asked, “do you remember that time I saw the light?” His parents and three siblings were stunned, then broke out in laughter.
The Lochows appreciated Torin’s sense of humor, but for a while no one was laughing when they looked back on his illness.
“I started crying when they showed me the pictures of me in the hospital,” Torin said.
No wonder. The photos show Torin with stuffed animals in his hands, his mother gently stroking his head. They show the hoses, tubes and cords keeping him alive. And they show Torin’s friends Alex Carr and Caleb Morgan reading to him. Their choice of literature? “Captain Underpants.”
“We were in seventh grade,” Carr said, with a laugh. “We figured if he was in the hospital, he might as well have some fun.”
Carr admitted the reading was as much for him and Morgan as for Lochow. Feeling helpless, reading the story of two mischievous boys and their superhero principal was something they could do for their buddy and themselves.
“Somebody told us it might be good for him to be read to so we did every day after basketball practice,” Carr said. “We love him. He’s been our best friend since elementary school, Kindergarten or first grade. We were worried about him and I don’t know if he could hear us, but it made us feel better.”
Torin laughed at the thought of his buddies reciting “Captain Underpants” to him. Then he became serious.
“I don’t remember,” Lochow said. “But the doctors said that when certain people talked to me my heart rate went up.”
About 10 days after he awakened, Torin went home. He didn’t, however, immediately return to the basketball court not even to normal life. Inactivity had taken its toll to the point that the young athlete had to learn again how to walk.
Torin faced another unexpected challenge. He experienced withdrawal from the drugs administered to him in the hospital. He was sick and shaky. Sleep eluded him and frustration set in.
Torin, though, battled and briefly played in the last two games of his middle school season, even making a shot from near half court. His lungs, though, weren’t anywhere near as strong as they were before he became ill. That condition lasted through his freshman year. By his sophomore season, Torin’s lungs were back to normal and by junior year he was 100 percent.
In a family of college athletes, Torin said he figured he was too small to play at the next level. Torin also hit a growth spurt as a junior, going from the smallest kid on the team to a 6-foot, 185-pound standout guard. His hustle, talent and competitiveness caught the attention of college coaches. Last week, Torin committed to Marietta College, choosing the Pioneers over Wittenberg, Tusculum, Bluefield and walk-on offers from Marshall, Cincinnati and Coastal Carolina.
“I really liked Marietta,” said Torin, who enjoys paintball and rafting. “It’s a nice campus and the coaches are great. I like the style they play.”
Steve played football at Dayton. Amy played tennis at Furman. Torin’s sister, Haven, plays soccer at Georgetown College. His aunt Julie played professional tennis.
Torin earned his place on a college roster through grit and determination, despite monumental obstacles.
“Torin’s not gifted with 6-foot-5 height or crazy athleticism, but he plays hard,” Carr said. “He makes the most of it.”
Torin said his dad, mom and former Huntington High star Mikal Dawson, now playing for the University of Akron, inspired him to be the best player possible.
Lochow’s all-out effort earned him respect of teammates and opponents. Late in his final high school game, a 78-68 loss to Spring Valley in the sectional tournament, Lochow fouled out. He sat on the court, spent, but not long as Timberwolves star C.J. Meredith helped him up and hugged him as fans from both teams applauded.
“It hit me really hard,” Torin said of fouling out.
Yet, Torin persevered. After all, he knows something about that.