Swiggett back on field after rare bone disorderOctober 7, 2003
By Pete Iacobelli, Associated Press
|Junior Darren Swiggett has found a way to contribute|
Note: The following story was written by Pete Iacobelli of the Associated Press and appeared in Monday's edition of the Miami Herald.
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. - The pain was unbearable. Charleston Southern quarterback Darren Swiggett threw a few footballs and a searing sensation shot down his right arm, leaving his hand numb.
"Man," he remembered thinking in August, "this cannot be just a sore arm."
For Swiggett, it was much worse - and it ended his quarterback career.
Swiggett has fibrous dysplasia, a rare genetic disorder in which the inside of a person's bone fills with fluid or fibrous material and reduces bone density. The affected bone - in this case, Swiggett's humerus in his right arm - can shatter under contact with a lineman, the turf or even a doorway.
"I don't want to embellish the point," Charleston Southern coach Jay Mills says, "but the images that you have in your mind are Dave Dravecky."
Dravecky, the San Francisco Giants pitcher, fractured a bone in his arm during his second start after returning from cancer surgery in 1989. The horrific sight of Dravecky's bone breaking in midthrow - Dravecky later had the arm amputated - remained in Swiggett's mind last month as he considered getting back under center.
"His arm snapped," said Swiggett, quietly. "I saw what he went through and I didn't want that."
But Swiggett wanted to help his teammates. So when kicker Nick Ellis was sidelined with an injury in Charleston Southern's loss at Wingate, Swiggett had an idea.
Swiggett played club soccer during his high school days in Oklahoma City. He knew he could give coaches a reliable alternative. "We had a 300-pound offensive lineman trying to kick," Swiggett recalled. "I thought, 'What am I doing here?' "
Mills wanted Swiggett involved. The small college that plays Division I-AA is affiliated with the South Carolina Southern Baptist Convention, and Mills tries to bring his faith to the football field. "Matthew 10:45 says the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve," Mills said. "And Darren does that."
When Mills told the Buccaneers that Swiggett would kick, "we had applause in our Friday night meeting."
Swiggett's job comes with several restrictions. He wears a protective cast on his right arm. He does not punt. Mills orders Swiggett to the sidelines after kickoffs. "It's always kind of a moral dilemma for Darren," Mills said. "He wants to hang out there in case he has to make a tackle."
Swiggett came to Charleston Southern last season from Northeastern Oklahoma Junior College. In a promising first year, he led the Bucs with 1,490 yards and 10 touchdown passes despite two shoulder injuries.
After offseason surgery to correct those problems, Swiggett was headed to camp in the best shape of his life.
Then came the strange pains that would inflame his arm. He tried to throw through it until things got too severe. Doctors at first told Swiggett it might take another surgery and another year to heal. Then came the diagnosis of FD, a disorder that affects about 1 in 15,000-to-30,000 Americans, according to a support group Web site.
All bones are continually breaking down and rebuilding. In those with fibrous dysplasia, "something goes haywire in that process," said Charlie Harles, who found out about his fibrous dysplasia 51 years ago, when he broke his leg as a 6-year-old.
Swiggett's parents, Dale and Cheryl, said the decision about playing was their sons to make. They loved watching him play, but Darren's future health was paramount.
"That's not really what I wanted to hear," said Swiggett, 22.
He soon realized how hard it could be to stand in the pocket facing blitzers knowing the next hit could bring disaster. Swiggett told his teammates he couldn't give them 100 percent.
"Just be aware of how much longer you have," Swiggett said to the Bucs. "You might not never know when it's going to end with an injury so enjoy it while you can."
Swiggett's enjoying being back on the field. He's 10-of-10 on extra points and is third among Charleston Southern's scorers. He has modified his routine some - lifting lighter weights - but he tries not to walk around like a porcelain doll.
But, he still finds it hard not to be the signal caller. "You're used to having your name be the talk of the team, saying 'Oh, the quarterback played great,'" he says, eyes staring at the floor. "And then you realize that's not necessarily you anymore."
Medical questions remain. A recent X-ray sent to specialists at Duke University Medical Center found no fractures in the humerus. More scans are needed in six to eight months to see if things have worsened - or if the condition affects other bones.
Swiggett's attitude has been upbeat, his father says. "I think because of the way it happened, he could accept it better than if it was a knee injury or something he could control," father Dale Swiggett said.
Swiggett, a junior, will keep his scholarship the next two years. He'll work as a student assistant, tutoring the team's younger quarterbacks if he's not kicking.
Coach Mills is just grateful his ex-quarterback walked off the field in one piece. "The good Lord's been watching out for him," Mills said. "We didn't have to find out about Darren's problem the hard way."