On the Field Again

March 22, 2018

In September, Sam Hill, a junior at Fort Defiance (Va.) High School, was no longer allowed to participate on the football team after being diagnosed with Wilson Disease. Hill is back on the field for baseball, though, thanks to the hard work of Becky Anhold, ATC, Athletic Trainer for Fort Defiance.

An article from the News Leader explains that Hill had sustained a shoulder injury during the football preseason. During his doctor’s visit, concerns about excessive bruising were raised. Subsequent tests led to the Wilson Disease diagnosis.

As described by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Wilson Disease is a genetic condition in which high levels of copper build up throughout the body—especially in the liver, brain, and eyes. This condition begins most frequently during teenage years, with liver disease being an initial feature for children and young adults who are affected. Its symptoms include fatigue, loss of appetite, jaundice, and abdominal swelling.

For Hill, participating in sports is risky because his blood isn’t clotting properly. Keeping this in mind, Anhold has included a blood-clotting gauze in her first aid kit as a precaution. Along with that, she has Hill wearing a spleen guard during games, a jaw guard, and a batting helmet.

“I think I’m trying to be realistic,” Anhold said. “Sam’s last visit to the hospital [which included having fluid drained from his lungs] escalated my concern a lot, but I also know how important, emotionally, it is for him to be allowed to live a normal teenage life.”

To help keep those opposing concerns in balance, Anhold has urged all of the coaches to stay current with their CPR and first aid training. She has also talked with Hill’s doctor, who assuaged some of her worries. In addition, she has worked to make sure the athletic trainers at other high schools, where Fort Defiance will travel for away games, have a written healthcare plan.

After being diagnosed with Wilson Disease, Hill was told not to play football and appointed as an honorary coach for the fall season. Although that was better than nothing, he is happy to be back in action.

“It felt nice to actually participate again,” Hill said, “... not just watch what was going on.”

During one of the baseball team's first practices, Hill dove to catch a fly ball, and Head Baseball Coach Damian Fink held his breath.

“He hopped right up, but I’m not going to lie to you, I watched and made sure he got up,” Fink said. “I was nervous for about five seconds. But when I saw him hop up I knew he was fine. Maybe it will take me some time, not just him, but me watching him being back out there.”

Fink also works as an assistant football coach and saw firsthand how difficult it was for Hill to miss the season. Although he is still concerned about the potential for injury, he is happy that Hill has gotten the thumb’s up to play.

“It’s huge for him and his family,” Fink said. “It’s a boost for him to be back and a part of the team.”

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