Disabato: Lincoln-Way North’s Holt Erikson goes through change in the game of life
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato October 2, 2013 9:40PM
Holt Erikson, of Lincoln-Way North | Supplied photo
Updated: November 4, 2013 11:54AM
Holt Erikson remembers it like it was yesterday: April 19, 2012. It’s the date that forever changed his life.
He even remembers the exact time: 5:17 p.m.
“It was the fourth inning, and I laid down a bunt,” Erikson recalled of the sophomore baseball game between his Lincoln-Way North team and Stagg. “I’m running toward first base and I lunged for the bag to try to beat the throw. I put all my pressure on my right leg and it gave out. I felt a vibration throughout my body and felt my leg snap.”
Erikson, a shortstop for the Phoenix, broke his right femur in two.
“I could see a huge bump above my knee,” he said of the protruding bone.
He was rushed to a nearby hospital. Doctors, however, noticed that his blood counts were coming back negative. “They asked if I had a blood disease,” he said.
The next day, Erikson had surgery to repair his femur.
Approximately 10 days later he was asked to return to the hospital.
Doctors diagnosed him with pre-leukemia. The plan to attack the disease, Erikson and his family were told, was a stem-cell transplant in July, followed by chemotherapy. The process would require a four- to five-month hospital stay. A rising star at quarterback, Erikson had to miss his junior season of football.
Just 16 at the time, he was shocked. There hadn’t been any signs of anything physically wrong prior to breaking his leg.
“I was scared,” Erikson said. “Everyone was trying to give me positive thoughts. Some of my friends shaved their head to show support.”
Then, four days before his scheduled stem-cell transplant, doctors informed Erikson he was misdiagnosed.
He didn’t have leukemia; he had Aplastic anemia, a life-threatening condition in which the bone marrow doesn’t make enough new blood cells. Bone marrow is the soft tissue in the center of bones. Without it, bones practically are hollow. A hard tackle or hit by pitch could produce devastating results for Erikson.
Erikson’s days of playing sports were over. His dream of following in the same path as his older brother Tate, who starred at quarterback for North, and one day playing at the collegiate level never would be realized.
“He would have been our starting quarterback last year and this year,” North coach George Czart said. “He could have been brought up his sophomore year but we left him down on the sophomore level. He was a great quarterback.”
If ever there’s an example of life not being fair, Erikson’s experience is it.
The good news is that his blood counts have stayed the same. At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Erikson, now a senior, has grown two inches and gained 20 pounds over the past 18 months.
Doctors continue to monitor his condition, waiting to figure out a treatment going forward. The disease’s most serious complication is a lack of blood clotting. When Erikson suffers even the most minor of cuts, excessive bleeding occurs. Physical activity, like wrestling with friends, must be avoided.
“It takes 30 minutes sometimes for me to stop bleeding,” he said. “I have to be careful what I do. Every three months I get blood taken, and I’ve had a skin graft. But I feel good.”
However, the constant fear of not knowing why or how this happened or what the future holds occupies much of his idle time. How can it not? That’s why, with the blessing of Czart and the rest of the coaching staff, Erikson is helping coach Lincoln-Way North’s freshman “B” team.
Beyond keeping his mind active, it’s also a way for Erikson to stay connected with the game he loves and to offer his knowledge to younger players.
“I try not to think about it (the disease),” said Erikson, who grew up playing for the Frankfort Square Wildcats. “I can’t play sports, but I’m still having fun with my friends. I’m still enjoying life.”
Erikson would like to attend the University of Illinois to study sports management. His parents, though, would prefer he attend a college closer to home in case something happens, just in case he’d need immediate medical attention. He understands their concern.
“My parents have been great through all of this,” said Erikson, who boasts a 3.8 grade-point average. “I’m going to listen to them. But I know I can go through anything after going through this experience. It eats at me not knowing what going on with me physically or what’s going to happen to me in the future. But God put me on this path for a reason.
“I’m not mad this happened. I’m thankful I’m living.”