Wearing a grey and blue Trinity football hooded sweatshirt, Mitchell Kendra, a senior at Trinity High School, walked slowly up the track at Hiller Field March 28 with his mother, Jennifer, by his side.
In the distance, he saw several large clusters of people gathered. Kendra, who was discharged from Washington Hospital 20 minutes earlier, wanted to attend a prayer circle his classmates and teammates organized. After suffering a spontaneous collapsed lung, he had just concluded an excruciating 15 days in the hospital.
His days were filled with waiting to see if his lung would remain inflated and having chest tubes inserted and taken out.
The Kendras were initially optimistic his stay would only last a few days. It took longer than expected but, finally, he was standing on the field where he gained acclaim as a wide receiver for the Hillers’ football team and as a javelin thrower on the track squad.
It all began March 12 when Kendra, who’s also a member of the basketball team, attended a pick-up basketball game with coaches and players. Suddenly, he felt winded, sore and exhausted, Kendra went home and immediately went to sleep for the night.
The next morning, he awoke feeling the same. His parents were concerned but thought it could be a minor illness.
Kendra took some Motrin and tried to attend school.
He was there for less than an hour when he went to the nurse’s office. Jennifer was called and told to take her son to the hospital for testing.
Kendra refused. He was terrified of needles and blood, but after some convincing from his mother, he agreed to go.
Thinking it would take just a few hours for a routine checkup, a chest x-ray changed everything. He was diagnosed with a primary pneumothorax – a spontaneous collapsed right lung.
The news jolted Kendra. Doctors would need to insert a chest tube to try to inflate the lung.
“They told me it’s common in young, tall, skinny males,” Kendra said. “I know so many guys who are like that, and I had never heard of that happening before, especially when I didn’t get hit or anything. I was caught off guard.”
The 18-year-old was faced with a predicament. He was terrified just thinking of blood. During his freshman year, his health class was discussing blood when he passed
out. Since he is an adult according to HIPAA laws, doctors included him in the discussions of every detail of his treatment. He almost passed out again.
Jennifer, who became well-read on the topic, was used to cringing when her son took a hit on the football field. This was different.
“This caught us totally by surprise,” Jennifer said. “We didn’t expect anything like this to happen. He’s in such great shape. I was thinking, ‘Geeze, his abs are an eight-pack.’ How could this happen?”
After a few days with a chest tube inserted, his lung would not stay inflated. Every time the chest tube was taken out, Kendra’s lung deflated.
Surgery was needed.
Kendra was frustrated. His mother and father, Mike, urged him to call his 20-year-old brother, Jake, to help cheer him up. Mitchell could not speak when Jake answered. The younger brother broke down in tears.
The surgery took two hours and involved a video camera with an additional tube to shoot talcum powder into the chest cavity to force the lung to attach to the chest wall. The surgeon hoped the common procedure would remedy the situation.
The procedure, called chemical pleurodesis, was not instantaneous. It would take a few days for the lung to stick. When frustration began to build, optimism came three days later in the form of a surgeon’s visit. His lung stayed inflated so the chest tube was removed and one last x-ray was set for the next day, March 28.
The x-rays were clear. It was time to go home. His athletic career was not over. He couldn’t drive for a few days or lift more than five pounds for four weeks. Then, he’ll be free to resume his active lifestyle.
“I refused to get dressed that morning,” Kendra said. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up. When the doctor finally told me the surgery worked, I was pretty excited, but it took forever, so I didn’t show much emotion when I heard the news. I was just relieved.”
After hearing news his classmates, teammates and coaches were holding a prayer circle at 2:30 p.m., he asked nurses if he could get out in time to attend. They granted him permission.
The Kendras arrived at 2:45 p.m. and could not believe the sight.
“A lot of students got emotional,” Trinity head football coach Ryan Coyle said. “It was special for him to show up unannounced. For an 18-year-old kid to be there for that long, it had to be very scary.”
Kendra, who intends to play football and throw the javelin in college, plans to major in communications or journalism. He was excited to call the coaches who were recruiting him to let them know why he wasn’t in touch, but it was helping coach the Hillers’ javelin throwers that raised his spirits the most.
He returned to school last Tuesday, wheeling his books in on a cart.
When he woke up that morning, he finally felt everything was back to normal. He got up 20 minutes earlier than usual, went outside to soak in the sunny day. When it came time to leave for school, it was a unique experience.
“It felt like my first day of school,” Mitchell said. “I was excited to see all of my friends again, and it felt like a fresh start. When I finally got there, it all felt great.”