Rare Syndrom Strikes High School Football Team
August 23rd, 2010
By: Jerry Ulmer
Ten McMinnville High School football players remained hospitalized Saturday as they were treated for a rare soft-tissue condition after participating in an “immersion camp” at the school last week.
The players are suffering from “compartment syndrome” — soreness and swelling — that affects their triceps. They have received intravenous fluids to ward off a potential kidney disorder, according to Dr. Craig Winkler, who is treating seven of the players. Earlier Saturday, 12 players were at Willamette Valley Medical Center, but two were released by Saturday night, a spokeswoman said.
“The reason we’re treating these players so aggressively is to prevent renal disease,” Winkler said. “If it’s significant enough, it could actually end up in dialysis.”
McMinnville School District officials continue to investigate the cause of the condition. Superintendent Maryalice Russell said Friday that she didn’t believe the workout prescribed by first-year coach Jeff Kearin was excessive. The camp was in preparation for the first week of practice, which begins Monday.
Kearin has experience coaching in college, including at USC and UNLV, but a former colleague dismissed the idea that such a background could lead the Grizzlies’ coach to push high school players too far.
“He’s been an educator for a long time,” said Los Angeles Valley College coach Jim Fenwick, who worked with Kearin at Cal State Northridge. “He’s very conscientious about the high school development and the kids.”
Fenwick, formerly head coach at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, said he offered Kearin, 50, a job as an assistant this season should he decide against taking a high school coaching job.
“He works well with kids,” Fenwick said. “His personality is not a big, hard-nosed, lineman’s mentality, or a weight-room-mentality guy.”
The players are being treated for high levels of creatine kinase, a protein that can harm the kidneys.
Doctors are keeping a close watch on the CK levels of the players, some of whom entered the hospital with levels higher than 42,000, well beyond the level of 3,000 needed before they are discharged.
Winkler said that “95 percent” of the players are responding well to treatment. One player is “not responding adequately,” though, and would be treated with more fluid to flush out his kidneys faster.
Dennis Nice was among the parents waiting at the hospital for reports on the CK levels. Nice and his wife Margaret — parents of Joshua, 17, and Daniel, 16 — have been at the hospital around the clock since Wednesday.
“It’s just a matter of time,” Dennis Nice said. “There’s nothing we can do about it. We’re just waiting for the numbers to drop. All the parents pretty much know each other now. We’re all supportive of each other.”
Daniel Nice was one of three players to undergo surgery to reduce swelling. His CK levels had dropped from 17,000 to 6,600 by Saturday, according to his father.
Junior Kyle Downing said he had slight swelling in his triceps Tuesday but it receded. He took a blood test as a precaution Thursday night, however, and it revealed a CK level of 18,000. It has dropped to 6,000 since he was admitted Friday.
The cause of the condition has school officials, parents and doctors puzzled. Winkler said most cases of compartment syndrome are due to trauma.
“We could only find like 10 documented cases of triceps compartment syndrome,” he said. “It’s very, very rare.”
Some have speculated that a workout that targeted the triceps, in a hot wrestling room at the school Sunday, could be the cause. But Downing, who has been lifting weights all summer, disagreed.
“It definitely wasn’t the workout. The workout was fine,” he said. “It was basically nothing. The complete triceps workout was about one minute. This is odd.”
Russell said Friday that she supports the coaching staff. Rene Downing, Kyle’s mother, said Saturday that “the kids are crazy about the coach. He’s a good coach.”
Kyle Downing said the team remains excited about the season.
“This is a speed bump for us,” he said. “This is definitely a big building block. This is adversity at its greatest. To all the teams we play, I’d have to say, ‘Watch out.’ ”