Crohn's disease: Oakmont player takes a real beating on the inside

Michael Garrison still is one of the Vikings' best players
By: Kayla Nix
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Each football season, thousands of young men across the country slam into each other, diving to the ground for a ball, making tackles, blocking and generally putting a beating on their bodies. But what if a body already is taking a beating? That’s the case for Oakmont High School senior Michael Garrison, who battles Crohn’s disease. Crohn’s is an inflammatory condition that affects the stomach and other parts of the body. “It’s just basically a disease where my body is always fighting against itself to get healthy,” Garrison said. “… I get infections and a lot of things like that easily. … It really tires me out because my body is always fighting to get healthy and to fight off other infections. It’s just fighting to keep up. "I feel tired. I get a lot of stomachaches. I get headaches from time to time, stuff like that.” The fatigue has affected Garrison this season. He missed the season opener against Foothill and the fourth game against Del Oro due to illness. But while Crohn’s has slowed Garrison, it hasn’t stopped him. He serves as a team captain. He plays on offense, defense and special teams. Garrison has played receiver, quarterback, free safety, strong safety, punter and kick returner this season. “I do know stuff that other people don’t,” Oakmont coach Tim Moore said. “It’s tough. Sometimes, I will definitely pull the head coach and say you don’t have to deal with that, I’ll deal with that.” Garrison was diagnosed with Crohn’s at age 11. His mother, Roni Garrison, said he was at Little League tryouts on a Saturday and was fine. Then, he didn’t feel well and his leg hurt. By Monday, Garrison could barely walk. He had emergency surgery on an abscess that formed. His mother explained that as Crohn’s forms in the intestines, there are fistulas in the system that tunnel around and can make boils and other things form on top of the skin that have to be removed. “Saturday, he was this active, healthy kid, and on Monday, it was a whole new world for us,” Roni Garrison said. “It had changed.” Garrison took 10 to 15 pills a day to control the Crohn’s. He went into remission within a year. “They were able to get him to Crohn’s remission state for a period of time,” Roni Garrison said of Michael, who’s listed on the Oakmont roster at 6 feet and 195 pounds. “We were very fortunate. … He was in remission during his growth time. A lot of kids aren’t, and their growth is stinted.” Garrison was able to live a normal life during remission with no need for medication or treatment, like a controlled diet. Garrison came out of remission in January and is back on medication. He takes 10 pills a day. There is no cure for Crohn’s. Roni Garrison explained that Crohn’s shows itself in different ways for different people. “Some kids get Crohn’s and really can’t keep any nutrients in their body and can lose a lot of weight,” she said. “With Michael, it more manifests itself that his body gets really worn down. He gets very tired really easily. He hurts more. His is more physical pain than his body losing weight. More physical pain, tiredness, stomach pain.” Garrison is lucky in a way in that he hasn’t had to have surgery. “It’s a vicious cycle where they cut the section out of the intestine, but it can happen again,” Roni Garrison said. “People get into series of surgery, chasing the Crohn’s throughout the intestine. The likelihood that Michael will have to have surgery is pretty good. … That’s his long-term prognosis. We just hope it happens at 55, not 25.” Garrison said he’s fine most of the time, except for about one week a month, during which he just doesn’t feel good. He’s exhausted and has frequent stomachaches. “It’s kind of like a 24-7 flu somewhat because my stomach is always upset and I always never really feel great all the time,” Garrison said. “My mom jokes with me all the time that I’m not sure what feeling good is like.” Garrison makes frequent trips to doctors and specialists for blood work, checkups and more. “He’s always taking trips to the doctors, and it’s just part of his life and he just deals with it,” said Ryan Kovach, Garrison’s friend and opponent from Woodcreek. Also in the past month, Garrison said he was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in his hips. “I thought my muscles were all torn up, and I was kind of scared I wasn’t going to play football,” he said. “It was actually kind of a relief that it was arthritis. But then again, it’s something that when you think about it in the long run, when I’m 40 or 50 years old, will I be able to walk? Will I be able to play with my kids and do all those kinds of things?” But Garrison plans to play “until my body absolutely won’t let me.” He said two things take away his pain: Football and sleep. “That’s really the only thing that takes the pain away, is when I’m not awake to feel it,” he said. Garrison said the biggest struggle he deals with is perception, because his disease isn’t visual. “That’s like the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with,” he said. “Since it’s not visual, that’s how I feel inside, because that’s where all my problems are.” Moore had the same sentiments. “If you don’t know what he’s going through, it’s really easy to pass judgment and say, ‘He’s lazy,’ or, ‘He’s making excuses,’ ” Moore said. “I try to be as much involved in the direct dealings with Michael as possible because he doesn’t want it to be an excuse.”