By Marlys Kruger
While any fan that attends an athletic event is usually observant enough to notice when a player on either participating team has a medical problem such as a knee, ankle or shoulder injury because of the presence of a brace, foot boot or crutches, there are many athletes who deal with medical disabilities that go unnoticed to the majority of us. Local Colfax three sport athlete Alexis Rudi is one of those athletes.
Alexis, a 17-year-old junior, has played varsity volleyball, basketball and softball since ninth grade for Colfax High School. On November 1 of 2011 which was her freshman year, Alexis became sick with a throat infection. Her doctor thought she may need surgery to remove her tonsils but first decided to try her on some medication. The medication worked on the infection but resulted in giving her a headache that wouldn’t seem to go away. Like most people do, she attempted to relieve the pain by using over the counter drugs, but after trying several different ones discovered none of them made the pain go away. In fact, the headache continued to get worse, resulting in a trip to the hospital in December.
“I spent three days in the hospital hooked up to an IV with several drugs going through me to try and get rid of the pain,” Alexis said. “The medication made me very tired but never did anything for the headache. They sent me home with some different medications, but those didn’t help either. Since then I have been at the Mayo Clinic and Marshfield Children’s Center for every test possible and they can’t find anything physically wrong. They refer to my condition as ‘Daily Chronic Migraines’ and they don’t know why some people get them or how to get rid of them.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, this type of headache is one of the most disabling kind, and only a steady, long term management program of up to five years may eventually reduce the pain and lead to fewer headaches. So for now, Alexis has to deal with a constant headache, which at its best is a 4-5 on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the highest pain level) and on many occasions it jumps to an 8-9. She has tried just about every medical treatment possible as well as non-medical including a change of diet.
“I have gone gluten free, caffeine free and everything else to see if that would help,” she said. “Nothing seems to matter. I have had acupuncture, gone to several chiropractors and had deep tissue muscle stripping massage to try and relieve the pain that goes down into my shoulders from the pressure of the headache. The majority of the pain is in my temples but when the pain level is high, it goes through my whole head. The last thing I tried was botox injections this past December. I had two rounds which consist of 28 injections in my forehead which is supposed to paralyze the nerves. They said it may take a few rounds to find out if they will help. So far, it seems like they are working a bit because I haven’t had any high peaks, but I’ll need to have some more to see if they continue to help. There really is no pattern to when the headache gets worse or better. I discovered reading very small print may trigger it or perfumes and anything with a scent, so I stopped using them. But somedays it is really bad in the morning and gradually gets better, and some days it is mild in the morning and gets worse as the day goes on. Sometimes bright lights, sunlight or loud noise makes it worse and some days that doesn’t bother me. Every day is different and I don’t know what to expect.”
Although some doctors have told her stress may be a big factor that causes the headaches and she should refrain from being so active, Alexis doesn’t see that as an option for her.
“I started playing sports back in grade school, softball and basketball around second and third grade and volleyball in fifth grade,” she said. “I love competing, being with my friends and being a part of a team. I have taken time off from sports and my headache continued, so it was either give up something I love or try and play through it. These are my only high school years and to just quit everything would bother me a lot. Sometimes I have to sit down at practice or during games if the pain gets too bad and sometimes at school I have to leave class for awhile. But my coaches, teachers and friends are very understanding and we all try and deal with it,” she added.
The headaches affect so much more than just athletics and schoolwork, according to Alexis.
“When I come home from school after a practice, I usually have to lay down in a dark room for awhile,” she said. “This puts me behind in homework and I can’t spend time with my family. When we want to plan a trip or even a day out, we have to see how bad my headache is to determine if we can go or not. I don’t do sleepovers at my friends houses because I have to have the exact amount of sleep. Too much or too little can cause my headache to spike. I can’t do as many activities as I used to like going to movies or going out to eat. Sometimes it gets so bad I can’t leave the house for the day. It just seems like my whole life revolves around the level of my headache.”
Alexis’ parents, Carl and Polly both work in the school district, Carl as a middle school teacher and Polly as the Special Education/Curriculum Director and both can attest (along with her brother Jared) as to how hard this is on Alexis.
“To watch your daughter go from a vibrant, happy, easy going girl to someone who is always hurting is very difficult,” Polly said in a conversation a few months ago. “When you have tried everything you think is possible to help her and nothing does, you feel so helpless. But Alexis very rarely complains unless it gets so bad we have to take her to the doctor. She doesn’t like attention drawn to herself so she has learned how to deal with her level of pain and she does what she needs to do. We can usually tell when she is hurting but she doesn’t say anything and there isn’t much we can do for her,” she added.
As of now, Alexis is on two medications (which of course have side effects) that she takes at night along with the botox treatments. Her doctors have said the headaches may go away when she gets to college and has less stress in her life but they can’t guarantee it.
“I try not to put too much pressure on myself but I like getting good grades and playing as hard as I can in all three sports,” she said. “So I have tried to deal with this as best as I can. I just want people to know there are probably a lot of kids out there who have medical problems you can’t see but they have to deal with it. I keep hoping something will be found that will end my problem so I can just feel normal again,” she concluded.