Comatose football player found doctor who would let him play

October 14, 1990|By Valerie Martinezand Dorothy Korber | Valerie Martinezand Dorothy Korber,Knight-Ridder News Service

LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Lying in a coma, Scott Kahale' muscular body, covered with only a towel, looks sadly vulnerable. Tubes feed into his nose and puncture his arms, while machines keep his heart pumping. The 20-year-old Cerritos College offensive guard loved football so much he chose to accept a medical opinion that allowed him to play after learning, on Sept. 12, that he had a cyst on his brain.

But even after doctors at two hospitals warned that playing football was dangerous in his condition, Kahale was overjoyed when he found a physician who OK'd his return to the playing field.

"I believe in miracles, Mom," he told his mother after getting that news on Sept. 28.

The next night he suited up in his blue-and-white uniform, and his coach sent him into the game against San Diego City College. His father was there, but his mother, who said she was sick with worry over the fact he was playing, decided not to go.

Kahale played only briefly. Minutes after he returned to the sidelines, he collapsed and was rushed by ambulance to Pioneer Hospital in Artesia, where he underwent emergency brain surgery.

Within his skull, surgeons discovered a hematoma -- a tumorlike collection of blood -- compressing the brain and pushing it to one side.

He was moved Oct. 3 to Memorial Medical Center in Long Beach for further brain surgery. There he lies today, in a medically induced coma that doctors hope will save his life.

Two weeks after Scott Kahale's collapse, people are still wondering why it happened.

The doctor who signed Kahale's medical release stands by his decision to let the young man play football.

Kahale's parents, who shared in the decision to let him play, say that if not for the medical release, their son might not be in a coma.

College officials, who insist football had nothing to do with Kahale's injury, say they followed their policy "to the letter" by letting him into the game. "I don't second-guess doctors," said one.

But although no one is sure whether playing football that night triggered Kahale's collapse, all agree that Scott Kahale continued to play football because he saw it as the key to his future.

A sophomore, Kahale is a popular student who was a top vote-getter in the school's student senate election this semester. He told his parents he wanted to be a counselor because he

enjoyed people, especially children.

The 6-foot-1, 265-pound adopted child of a Cerritos couple, Kahale nicknamed himself "Blala" -- Hawaiian for "big and tough." Yet this big, tough football lineman also volunteered as a baseball umpire and Cerritos Little League coach, said John Kahale, his father.

In order to achieve his dreams, Kahale wanted to get a college degree from the University of Southern California or another well-known four-year university, his father said. Unable to afford the high cost of a private university, Kahale knew he needed to get a football scholarship.

"He was playing to get a scholarship," said John Kahale. "He would say, 'I gotta play because I need the money.' "

That explains why he was driven to continue playing football, says his mother, Dori Kahale, a tiny woman whose home reflects the Polynesian atmosphere in which her son was raised.

So, for seven years, he dressed in bulky padding and cleats and conditioned his body to take the abuse suffered by a football player who plays offensive guard.

He began playing as a Cerritos High School freshman, graduating to Cerritos College. He sat out only one year, to maintain his eligibility as a college athlete.

But this season, something went wrong.

After the first game -- Sept. 8 against Palomar College -- Kahale suffered a headache severe enough to send him to the Pioneer Hospital emergency room the following Monday, Sept. 10.

Kahale was seen by Dr. Laurence Carnay, a neurologist, who took a magnetic resonance imaging picture and computerized tomography scan of his brain. Carnay conferred with neurosurgeon Barry Ceverha over Kahale's case.

The doctors say they found a cyst on Kahale's brain that was causing pressure. They told him to come back in three weeks. When he asked if he could play football, they said no.

"He was a high risk, and until we could follow his progress over time and see what was happening with that cyst, then our opinion was that he should not play football," Carnay said in an interview.

Carnay told Kahale and his parents that the cyst might require surgical removal. Concerned by this diagnosis, the Kahales went to Kaiser Permanente hospital in Bellfower for a second opinion.

But what they got was the same diagnosis.

"We told him not to play football," said Ruth Lucci, doctor of internal medicine at the Bellflower Kaiser hospital. "I talked with him and his mom a couple times, but he wanted to continue to play and continue with his activities."

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