In early May, three members of the Wootton football program were hospitalized with symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, which is defined by the National Institutes of Health as a breakdown of muscle fibers resulting in the release of muscle fiber contents (myoglobin) into the bloodstream. One freshman student-athlete, who school officials would only identify as Brian, was hospitalized for nearly three weeks.
On Tuesday, the Patriots held a closed-door meeting for parents, players and coaches to discuss the matter in the school’s auditorium. The Gazette and a radio reporter were not allowed to attend the event.
“It was promised to parents and students and we decided to do it in a more intimate situation,” Wootton principal Michael Doran said. “I’m entitled to a [private] meeting with a set agenda and reason.”
According to Doran, the football team conducted a routine off-season condition exercise (triangulated push-ups) on May 4 in which three student-athletes eventually fell ill. Two days later, the trio went to the hospital to be treated for symptoms of rhabdomyolysis. Two of the students were initially cleared, but later returned for treatment and released. Brian remained hospitalized for 19 days and returned to school last week.
According to the National Institutes of Health, myglobin breaks down in the bloodstream into potentially harmful compounds that could cause kidney damage. Risk factors for rhabdomyolysis include, but are not limited to severe physical exertion, heatstroke, heat intolerance, alcoholism and overdose of illegal drugs. Symptoms include abnormal urine color, weakness and muscle aches and stiffness. It is usually treated with high amounts of fluid and diuretics to flush out the myoglobin in the kidneys.
The school halted all off-season workouts immediately to investigate. After conducting interviews, it was found that the school’s protocols were followed with appropriate rest periods in place between repetitions, proper stretching and sufficient hydration, Doran said. No student ever shared a specific concern with the coaching staff after the workout session.
“There’s an education component to it,” Doran said. “Let’s learn from it.”
Booster club president Jim Bradley (Wootton Class of 1977), whose son Jake was a wide receiver in the program until his recent graduation, says parents are satisfied overall with the school’s response.
“My son still works out with them,” Bradley said. “Hydration has always been an emphasis. [The school] did the right thing by all accounts, but its tough because you still have a kid in the hospital.”
Conditioning resumed May 16 with several precautions in place: A specific drill (triangulated push-ups) will not be used again; coaches in all sports will receive specific training on rhabdomyolysis; and information sessions are planned before every sport season to raise awareness with parents and students.
A school website devoted to the “best conditioning practices” may also be in the works. Additionally, more stringent participation lists will be kept and the lines of communication will be reviewed in the event of another related occurrence.
“It’s a lot of good common sense tips to help in such an unusual thing,” Doran said. “To get stronger, faster, fitter and [more] flexible, you have to work hard and push your body to a line where you could be hurting yourself. … Where do you balance that in your program? It’s something every coach struggles with every day.”