Sean McDonough happy to return to MSG for Big East tourney after being treated for rare condition

MLB commentator Sean McDonough. (April 25, 2011)

MLB commentator Sean McDonough. (April 25, 2011) (Credit: Ben Solomon)

Neil Best

Newsday columnist Neil Best Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned

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It was one of the lowest moments for Sean McDonough: This time last year he arrived at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament and found himself overwhelmed by the public address system blaring over him at center court.

"It was getting to the point I almost could not speak every time something was coming out of the p.a. system,'' he said yesterday.

That is an untenable situation for a sports announcer. The temporary solution was to ask conference and Garden officials to turn down the volume, which they did. The longer-term solution would wait for Nov. 30, and was far more involved.

McDonough had a rare condition, diagnosed early in 2012, called superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS), a congenital problem with symptoms such as hearing footsteps and heartbeats inside one's own head, and even feeling one's eyeballs move.

The problem is a thinning of the bone that separates the ear from the brain, which in McDonough's case required repairing a hole that had formed near his left ear. The "pretty invasive procedure,'' as he called it, involved the doctor, Daniel Lee, lifting his brain, putting it back in place and reattaching it to the skull.

But McDonough, 50, decided it was worth the risk because the status quo would not do. "I knew I didn't want to live with what I was living with for another 25 or 30 years,'' he said.

So far he has no regrets as he returns to the Garden to call the Big East Tournament for ESPN, thankful that as he walks the sidewalks of New York he no longer hears his own footsteps banging inside his head.

"I feel a lot better now,'' he said, despite some lingering aftereffects of the surgery, such as ringing in his ears and periodic dizziness.

McDonough was back at work by Dec. 29 for the Alamo Bowl, then Jan. 2 for the Sugar Bowl, a challenging way to restart given that both are played in loud, domed stadiums.

"It was a little bit jarring,'' he said, given his hearing still was "hypersensitive.'' But he endured and made it through the entire basketball season. He credited Dan (Buddah) Bernstein, an ESPN audio expert, for regulating sound levels in his headset.

One of his partners, Bill Raftery said McDonough has been "terrific'' on the job, to the point you would not know what he had been through.

Initially McDonough was reluctant to speak publicly about his condition but is pleased he has helped spread the word about a syndrome identified only 15 years ago -- and often misdiagnosed.

"It's a crappy thing to go through, but it's gratifying to know some attention being called to it through my experience is helping other people,'' he said.

The next milestone will come Tuesday, when he returns to the Big East Tournament without having to worry about "having my overriding thought be, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe how loud the p.a. system is!' It almost took the fun out of doing the tournament. At some point you're so miserable you just want the game to be over. And that is not the way I am.''