Crohn's sends Callahan rushing toward new goal line - health

On High Schools

On High Schools

May 19, 2006|By MILTON KENT | MILTON KENT,SUN COLUMNIST

Doctors told Sonya Gross that the nausea and cramps and vomiting her son, Old Mill senior running back and sprinter Ryan Callahan, was experiencing were likely due to the nerves and stress attached to being a high school senior.

That seemed like a reasonable diagnosis, since a kid's senior year, the year kids get the first taste of adulthood and all the life-shaping decisions that come with it, is the most important and most nerve-racking of their lives.

But Gross knew her son better than anyone, and she knew there had to be some other reason to explain the pains Callahan was feeling on a regular basis.

"But I was like, `Nobody throws up or has that much pain every day or every other day. So something was wrong,'" Gross said.

So, after a battery of tests, including a CT scan, an endoscopy and a colonoscopy, Gross was proved right as it was determined that Callahan, the state's all-time leader in touchdowns and points scored, suffered from Crohn's disease, an illness of the digestive tract.

According to a Web site of the National Institutes of Health, Crohn's disease is an inflammatory bowel disease that more frequently afflicts people age 20-30. There is no definitive cause and no cure, though Crohn's can be treated mostly through monitoring and medication.

"I'm trying to just hope that [the symptoms] will just go away," Callahan said this week. "[At its worst] I can't even move because of really sharp pains. It really [stinks]. Sometimes, I just have to bend over."

Crohn's will cost Callahan a chance to capture the state title in the 100 and 200 meters at next week's Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's championship meet, as he has given up his rather successful track career.

"He's kind of OK with it. I mean, he likes to run, but he doesn't like to get sick," said Gross, laughing. "It was like a couple of times when he had his track meets, he'd say, `I don't feel like being sick today.'"

Old Mill track coach Janet Liimatta said Callahan, who has run a 10.74-second adjusted time in the 100 and 22 seconds in the 200, was reluctant to leave the track team, even though he had been doubled over in pain before meets and throwing up between heats.

"I went to find him," Liimatta said this week of her conversation with Callahan. "He doesn't like to disappoint people, so I think it was easier for me to find him and have that conversation rather than him trying to muster up the courage to come find me. I just kind of said, `It's your choice and I'll respect your decision either way.'"

Callahan said he had been suffering these symptoms throughout the school year, even during football season, when he ran for 1,940 yards and 34 touchdowns, but said very little about it.

His football coach, Mike Marcus, said he didn't notice any problems with Callahan until they attended a football banquet during the winter.

"He couldn't eat and stuff and he was very quiet," said Marcus, who left Old Mill after the season to pursue a business opportunity. "Ryan is normally quiet anyway, but he is jovial and could make light of situations and fun to be around. He just wasn't himself that night."

Indeed, on Feb. 1, the national signing day when Callahan formally committed to play football this fall at Maine, Marcus said the running back came to school late that morning because of his illness, something his mother said has occurred frequently.

Callahan skipped the indoor track season this winter, and was unable to properly train for the outdoor season, Liimatta said, though he kept trying until he finally shut things down after the Bob Golliday Invitational Meet at Old Mill earlier this month.

"He wasn't actually very good about communicating about what was going on early on, which was a problem. You could just kind of tell," said Liimatta. "At the Golliday meet, I could tell it reached an apex. He was doubled over in pain before he even ran and after he ran every race, he was throwing up. He still wanted to go out there, but you could see that he was miserable."

Things have improved, however, since Callahan was diagnosed in March. Callahan is on a daily medication regimen of eight pills of varying types and dosages, including antibiotics. He's also laid off the fast food and candy that were pleasing to the palate, but possible triggers for the pain and vomiting.

And after losing weight throughout the winter, Callahan is getting heavier, Gross said. He's up to 159 pounds, the most he has ever weighed.

"He just couldn't eat," Gross said. "And that's not him, because he eats a lot. I would cook dinner and I would fix him a plate and he would take a couple of forkfuls, and go `Ma, I can't eat this. I can't finish it.' Next thing you know, he's running to the bathroom. Now, he's gotten a lot better."

Before he leaves for Maine next month, Callahan will see the doctors again. Then, maybe, his medication will be reduced or even eliminated, Gross hopes.

The only problem between now and then might be getting him emotionally past the state track championships, because after spending all his high school life running toward goal lines and finish lines, it will be tough to run away from something he's wanted so badly.

"Sometimes, he'll go to a track meet and he'll go, `Aw, Ma, I can beat him. I'm faster than him.' I tell him, `Don't worry about it,'" Gross said.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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