December 6th, 2011
08:59 AM ET
In the Human Factor, we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship –- they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn’t know they possessed. This week we meet a young man who has battled a metabolic disease since childhood, but fights to not let it interfere with his dreams.
I am a 20-year-old student athlete at the Georgia Institute of Technology. I play college baseball and am challenged every day by mitochondrial disease.
Mitochondrial disease is an energy production problem. Almost all cells in the body have mitochondria, which are tiny “power plants” that produce the body’s essential energy.
When the mitochondria don’t function properly, the body has a power failure and can experience brownouts (intense mental and/or physical fatigue, prolonged sicknesses, aka mitochondrial crashes) or even potentially fatal blackouts.
Playing baseball at the collegiate level was a dream I had growing up, which I am now getting to live out on a daily basis. Every time I am in the weight room conditioning or practicing on the baseball field, I am confronted with signs and symptoms of my disease. It was my sophomore year in high school when I got my official diagnosis.
Looking back, I realize the onset of symptoms started in fourth grade when I was asked to play football on one of my baseball coaches’ football team the coming fall. Because I was a bigger kid on the baseball team, football seemed to be a natural fit for me. However, I remember that first season of playing football all too well.
Nightly, the joke between the coaches was, “What did Colby eat for dinner tonight?” As a fourth grader I reasoned my vomiting episodes before, during and after practices and games were the result of being a chubby, out-of-shape kid. Additionally though, my entire body would cramp daily as well.
Not too long into that football season, I decided it was not the sport for me. So, I went back to playing baseball only until 8th grade when once again the coaches at Landmark Christian School saw my build and stature and asked me to try football again. Being extremely competitive, I pushed past my physical limitations I’d previously experienced, but continued to have the same repercussions as before.
Having had success in middle school football, I continued playing my freshman and sophomore years, but it became obvious my body’s responses to the grueling day-to-day requirements of a football player were not the norm as daily cramping and vomiting continued. In fact, symptoms worsened due to the increased physical requirements at the varsity level. It didn’t seem to make sense; the more I conditioned my body, the weaker I became. In the weight room, my numbers plummeted when they should have been increasing.
Since my symptoms only appeared during football, each season my parents took me to various specialists trying to find the problem. It wasn’t until a scary episode my sophomore year in which I blacked out, lost control of my body and wet myself that finally propelled my family to search even further for the cause.
In a few months I met with Dr. John Shoffner of Medical Neurogenetics of Atlanta, Georgia, who determined based on my case file and presenting symptoms, I was a candidate for a muscle biopsy, which would determine if I had mitochondrial disease. Three months waiting brought us closure. I did, in fact, have mitochondrial disease.
In 2010, I was selected as an ambassador for the Foundation for Mitochondrial Medicine, an Atlanta-based, non-profit organization established to support the development of the most promising research and treatment of the many forms of mitochondrial disease. It has been a vital experience for me to connect with others who have the disease. I am inspired by these people. I choose to view my journey as a way to help spread awareness of the disease and speed treatments and eventual cures through my ambassadorship.
There were many times I could have taken the easy way out and quit athletics, but that would not have made me who I am today. All of these circumstances combine to help me find my path in life.
My desire, as well, is to use my platform as a Georgia Tech baseball player to encourage mitochondrial kids and teenagers that they, too, can find some form of normalcy in some facet of their lives. At the end of the day, I have chosen to put my faith in God’s hands and trust Him to guide my path.
If you would like to contact me or follow my journey in gaining exposure and support for mitochondrial disease, then follow me on twitter: @MitoguyGT. To learn more about the disease and find ways to speed effective treatments and cures look online at www.foundmm.org .
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.