Mystery Illness Strikes 12 High School Football Players

Three had to undergo surgery to relieve dangerously swollen muscles.

August 21, 2010, 3:22 PM

Aug. 21, 2010— -- Doctors and school officials are trying to determine why 12 Oregon high school football players suffered mysterious muscle problems that landed them in the hospital last week.

Three of the McMinnville High School football players had to undergo surgery for compartment syndrome, a condition where swelling muscles are compressed by the fascia, begin to deteriorate, and emit toxins into the blood, a hospital official said. The rest were treated with intravenous hydration to flush the toxins out of their blood.

"The school district and medical center are doing everything they can to pinpoint a causative factor and right now we don't have a cause," Willamette Valley Medical Center CEO Rosemari Davis said.

The football players had been training throughout the summer, but began immersion camp on Monday, Davis said. On Tuesday evening the first athlete began complaining that his hands didn't feel right, that he couldn't bend his elbows and his upper arms were swollen.

Three more football players began suffering identical symptoms on Wednesday, and by Friday a total of 12 athletes had been hospitalized with similar problems, Davis said.

Blood tests for toxins normally bring CK readings of 200 to 2,000, but the three who needed surgery to release the swelling of their muscles had readings of over 40,000, Davis said. The other athletes who were hospitalized had readings of between 3,000 and 40,000.

In all, 34 students had blood drawn for testing.

At a news conference on Friday, McMinnville Schools Superintendent Maryalice Russell said she didn't believe the problems were caused by the type of workouts the players were doing during the immersion camp.

Some of the football players told ABC News Portland, Ore., affiliate KATU-TV that they were amazed at how quickly their problems became serious.

"I was just kind of shocked this was happening to us," Josh Nice said Friday evening from his hospital bed. "Like we were dropping like flies from practice."

"One day my arm started hurting. Then it started swelling up and 10 minutes before, or at the end of practice, I had to go to the hospital," Jacob Montgomery told KATU.

"It's scary. Luckily he's in good shape," said Jacob's father, Paul told the TV station.

Paul Montgomery said he didn't blame the team's training program for the problem.

"It'd be kind of nice to figure out what it is," he said. "I doubt very much it has anything to do with coaching."

Compartment syndrome is often linked to Creatine, a substance found in many supplements, but the players who were stricken with the symptoms said they hadn't taken any supplements.

Davis said Friday there was no evidence that any of the players used supplements, but said results from tests done on the athletes for Creatine would not be available until at least Wednesday.

Even though the mystery is unresolved, Russell said the team will practice on Monday, which is the start of the regular season.

She said there was no reason to think the early week workouts, which included pushups and tricep dips, were unreasonable.

"From all we've been able to obtain ... we believe it was a strenuous workout but it wasn't excessive," she said.

Like Montgomery, other parents did not blame the football team's coach, Jeff Kearin, or the workout regimen for the problems.

"What we were told it was the perfect storm," Debbie Laughlin, whose son was among the 34 athletes tested, told KATU. "It was probably a whole combination of things and they can't really explain exactly why, because it is so rare."

"There's no one at fault here," Josh Nice's father, Dennis, said. "This is a once in a lifetime occurrence."

As of this afternoon, one of the athletes had been released from the hospital. The rest were listed in good condition and were expected to be released Sunday or Monday, Davis said.

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