Pushing Through to the Pool

by Jill Taylor on February 6, 2013

in Patient and Staff Stories

Teenager diagnosed with Crohn disease returns to competitive swimming

nick1Nicholas Meyer was 15 when Dr. Jonathan Ramprasad, a McLane Children’s Scott & White gastroenterologist, diagnosed him with the inflammatory bowel condition known as Crohn disease.

In the fall of last year, Nick’s mother, Robbin, knew something was wrong. She watched her son crawl out of the swimming pool after a race, collapsing from exhaustion. Luckily Nick’s dad, Dan, was an officiator poolside and was nearby to pull his frail, dripping wet son out of the water. “That’s when I knew something was not right,” he said.

For weeks the Meyers thought this “flu bug” would pass, but symptoms of diarrhea, pain, and exhaustion continued. At one point, Nick weighed barely 73 lbs, and his family was growing desperate for answers. Although Nick was weak, his spirits were strong. He endured a lot of pain as his symptoms persisted. He kept quiet about numerous trips to the bathroom, painful irritation and unpleasant side effects of this condition.

Nick would go to swim practice and have to sit on the sideline, unable to participate. He would do his homework, and he wished to be in the water. The doctors had put a hold on swimming, until they figured out what was going wrong with Nick’s health.

After a trip to the emergency room near their home in Harker Heights, TX, Nick was transferred to Dr. Lena Perger at the McLane Children’s Hospital Scott & White for emergency surgery on a painful cyst that had developed to the size of an orange.

After the extensive procedures, painful tests, and five days in the hospital, Nick was diagnosed with Crohn disease. It is a hereditary form of inflammatory bowel disease and although not life-threatening, must be controlled by diet and lifestyle. Crohn disease primarily affects the intestines or anywhere from the mouth to the end of the rectum. The medical management for Crohn disease has greatly improved since Nick’s grandfather suffered from the same disease decades ago.

“We were relieved once we found out what it was,” says Mrs. Meyer. “We were glad to start treatment and find out what’s going on.”

The treatment and weeks following were intense, but Nick kept a healthy perspective. After surgery on his cyst, he became frustrated as the infection grew worse and he needed to go back again for additional surgery. Lying down in the backseat of their truck, unable to sit up due to pain, Nick went back for additional care.

Nick was upset and told his dad he just wanted to quit and be done with the whole thing. Nick is a competitive swimmer, but due to his chronic illness, he was unable to compete for the better part of that year. He found comfort in his swimming idol, Michael Phelps, who continually inspired Nick to never give up. He would watch his tapes, received an autographed picture, and even got to see him in person. He looks up to Phelps as a mentor and role model.

The Meyers modeled a never giving up attitude. Nick was in and out of the hospital for surgery three times in the month of December alone. Dan and Robbin constantly worried about Nick if he was ever left at home, afraid that something would happen to their only child.

nick2During this time, the pediatric gastroenterologists at McLane Children’s became like family, Nick’s mother said. “They are top-of-the line doctors and nursed him back to health. They’re incredible. To me, they saved his life.”

Nick calls the GI clinic is third home, after his real home and the swimming pool. He now weighs 112 lbs and is growing like a regular teenage boy. Aside from routine monitoring, Nick is now healthy and able to pursue his dreams as a competitive swimmer. His mom says he is where he needs to be. He is back in the pool and doing what he loves.

“He’s just a complete 180 degree turn around, compared to where he was a year ago,” says Mrs. Meyer. “It’s been truly a remarkable recovery.”

Dr. Ramprasad says this is a very inspirational case of how despite a chronic illness, we’ve been able to get him back to doing what he does best.

Just a couple months after his extensive surgeries, Nick was cleared to swim again. Nick’s father, Dan Meyer, is a competitive swimming official and was a great support to Nick throughout this journey.

“I think swimming has actually been his drive and helped him cope with everything that’s been thrown at him,” said Mr. Meyer. “You fail at swimming a lot before you’re successful. He learned how to deal with failure, how to cope with perseverance and how to drive on.”

Nick’s mom was also encouraging, reminding him to be patient with himself and gradually build back up to his skill level. After taking control of the disease and through his training and maturing, Nick has shaved nearly 10 seconds off of his 50-yard freestyle. Nick is now one of the top swimmers at his high school and his confidence has increased dramatically.

“He is finally back doing what he enjoys doing,” says Mrs. Meyer. “Nick is back where he belongs—in the water.”

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