Gaining the toughest yards

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Chatfield football player overcomes medical obstacles, excels on field

By Deborah Swearingen

The glow of the October sun sinks behind the mountains lining the Chatfield Senior High School football field. A whistle blows; the game is over; the crowd cheers loudly — Chatfield wins.

Sophomore running back Alex Malone, No. 18, who moved in June to South Jeffco from Texas, jogs off the field to join his team in celebration.

With his athleticism and positive attitude, Alex’s coaches, teammates and acquaintances would never know the 15-year-old injects himself with insulin four times a day and takes blood pressure medicine to regulate his heart condition.

“I really don’t even notice it. It’s one of those things. … It’s not something he ever mentions, so it’s not something that he thinks is a weakness for him,” said Bret McGatlin, Chatfield’s head football coach.

Alex has type 1 diabetes and left ventricular hypertrophy. Adjusting life to meet his health needs was a challenge at first, but now he barely notices.

“I mean, at first it was a major lifestyle change, but along the way we got used to it,” he said, adding that he’s now “living life like a normal person.”

When it all began

Tammy Malone can remember the day in December 2013 like it was yesterday. After attending a Renaissance Festival near their Texas home with his father, her son, Alex, fell ill.

“My daughter had a stomach virus, and then he got sick. We just assumed that he had the stomach virus, too,” she said.

Alex ended up in the emergency room, where the doctors rehydrated him and sent him home. But still Tammy knew something was not right.

“He stumbled into my bedroom at night. … You could see his heart just pounding,” she said.

A trip to the doctor became a trip to the emergency room. And the trip to the emergency room led to Alex’s emergency transport to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. The then-13-year-old was finally diagnosed with left ventricular hypertrophy, a condition in which the muscle wall of the heart’s left pumping chamber thickens.

It’s never easy to hear that a child is sick, but Alex’s heart condition and high blood pressure were a source of shock for his mother.

“I mean, it was just crazy. He was like the healthiest one (out of the family),” Tammy said.

But Alex learned to manage his heart condition by taking blood pressure medicine every day, monitoring his diet and being physically active. He plays football and baseball, and runs track.

Then, just over a year later, Alex became sick again. After a variety of tests and several answerless days, a kidney specialist diagnosed him with diabetes.

When Tammy heard the latest news, she said she almost wrecked her car.

“We took him to the ER, and it was awful. I mean, they started stabilizing him and treating him and showing him how to do injections. I just … I was so devastated,” she said.

The road hasn’t always been easy, but Alex has learned how to cope. And Tammy said his health has been excellent since the move to Colorado.

“I don’t know if it’s environment, less stress, but he really has done really well health-wise,” she said.

From his coach’s perspective, Alex teaches an important lesson in perseverance and positivity.

“He comes out and plays almost the entire game. He’s one of the best players on the field. … You don’t hear him complain about (his health conditions). I think that’s a tribute to him and the kind of kid he is,” McGatlin said. “So it’s fun to watch him and known that he overcomes something, but for him, it’s not even a big deal.”