At the tender age of 10, Colton Harlin was generally used to the bruises and scrapes of pee wee football. And when the goal is a quarterback sack, a little pain for your efforts is to be expected, even during practice.
Colton was knocked down on the play. The quarterback remained unscathed. But Colton?
“My head was ringing,” he recalls. “My stomach was, like, hurting a lot.”
They returned to the sidelines, where Colton confided to his mother, Miranda. “I figured he’d be okay,” she says. “He’d cried ‘wolf’ so many times before; we thought he was just trying to get out of going to school.”
(Sound familiar, fellow parents?)
It wasn’t long before Colton was back on the field. He seemed fine.
“You know, we raised him to be a tough kid,” says his father, TJ. “We’re telling him, ‘You know what, son, you’re going to be all right. Sometimes we pull a small muscle in our tummy during practice. It’s bound to happen.'”
At the Saturday game, Colton was knocked down again. The pain came back like a flood. “I just tried to suck it up,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to cry in front of people.” Colton, telling his coach he was going to be sick, was pulled from play.
Returning home after the game, Colton went straight to bed, and to sleep. “I thought, ‘Maybe he’s just tired and needs rest,” says Miranda. The next morning unfolded like a typical family Sunday. “We’re up later, doing our normal routine, and Colton was watching TV.”
Suddenly, she saw her son bowing over the side of his chair. “I asked him what was wrong. His face was pure white. I said ‘Yeah, we’re going to go to the doctor, right now.’” She asked her daughter, Dakotah, to let TJ know, and with that, Miranda and Colton were out the door.
“We’re on our way to the hospital,” says Miranda, “and I’m on the phone with my mom. I said, ‘What if it’s appendicitis or something like that?’ But I didn’t know for sure.”
Still trying to reach TJ, the pair went straight to the ER. Labs were ordered. Miranda knew what was coming next. “Colton had never had his blood drawn with a needle,” she says. “But his nurses were able to calm him and get the needle in, and he was a champ right after that.”
Miranda and TJ finally connected by phone. “She said Colton was going right into surgery, and my heart just dropped,” he says, learning that his son would need an emergency appendectomy. “My world’s flashing before my eyes,” TJ recalls. “I played football for nine years. I’ve been hit in the stomach lots of times. And now this. Then I really started feeling like a bad parent, that he was really hurt.”
Dr. Daniel Smith would be performing the appendectomy. It was Miranda’s first time meeting the provider from KVH General Surgery. “He had the best bedside manner, ever,” she says. “He told Colton that he had a sick appendix, that we really don’t need it and don’t even really know why we have one. He reassured him and helped him understand what was happening.”
TJ and Miranda sat in the waiting room while Colton underwent surgery. “Of course I’m doing all the research I can possibly dig up on this,” says TJ. Less than an hour later, they were told Colton was in recovery, that everything had gone well. They’d been able to remove the appendix before it would have ruptured. Miranda immediately jumped up and ran in to see her boy.
Colton spent the night in the medical/surgical unit. “He got great care. The nurses were on top of anything he needed. They made sure he didn’t have a fever or any reactions to anything.”
When Colton was discharged the next morning, football was on his mind. “His team was going into the playoffs,” says Miranda. And so they carefully, slowly eased him back into practice, and before long, he was back on the field.
TJ has a message for all the ‘football fathers’ out there. “When your child says they’re hurt, really pay attention. It could be something serious. You know, we’re always pushing our sons to be greater than we were. Take into account what’s going on, and don’t shrug anything off. This could have been catastrophic.”
Miranda agrees. “Now, his toe starts aching, or whatever, we’re going to the doctor. We’re never going to not believe him again.”
As for Colton, he’s got his sights set on a career in the NFL. A linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, to be exact. And once he’s there? “Make it to the playoffs,” he grins. “And the Superbowl.”
Colton’s family would like to especially thank all of the staff who were involved in his care: Phyllis, Jana, Katie, Hannah, Pat, Luke, Jamie, Abigail, Ken, Kara, Anji, and Dr. Smith.