Sports is the best medicine

Phillip Brents

Thu December 5, 2013 3:16pm

If it wasn’t for sports, Otay Ranch High School senior Sebastian Perez might still be lying — by his own admission — in a hospital bed.
“Sports helps you overcome whatever you’re going through,” he said matter of factly. Perez has overcome more in the past few years than most people face in a lifetime.
He was diagnosed with stage 3 non-Hodgkins lymphoma at age 2. At 7 he was diagnosed with Legg–Calvé–Perthes disease of the right hip and had four corrective surgeries which led to wearing body casts from age 7 to 15.
But that was mild compared to what came next. Perez was subsequently diagnosed with papilary thyroid cancer and had his whole thyroid, parathyroids and all lymph nodes on the left side of his neck and shoulder removed, followed by radiation treatments. Currently he is in remission.
“It wasn’t fun,” he said with a soft all-too-knowing sigh.
Prior to his freshman year at Otay Ranch High School, Perez underwent the last of his hip surgeries. He has since found a new focus — as well as a second supportive family — through aquatics programs offered at the school. In fact, doctors recommended swimming as a good form of therapy while recovering from surgery for Legg–Calvé–Perthes.
“I tried it and I loved it,” he said. That led to water polo the following year.
Positive thinking
Legg–Calvé–Perthes disease is a childhood hip disorder initiated by a disruption of blood flow to the ball of the femur called the femoral head. Due to the lack of blood flow, the bone dies and stops growing. Over time, healing occurs by new blood vessels infiltrating the dead bone and removing the necrotic bone. This leads to a loss of bone mass and a weakening of the femoral head.
The worst was yet to come. It was during his junior year playing water polo that he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Because he no longer has a functioning thyroid gland, he must take medication for the rest of his life.
Perez had been active in youth sports — mixed martial arts — before he was diagnosed with Legg–Calvé–Perthes. However, the surgeries forced him to stop competing; he was confined to a wheelchair for three months.
“It was frustrating being in a wheelchair for so long, not being able to work out or hang out with friends,” he said. However, Perez said he maintained a positive outlook throughout all the adversity.
“It was hard because I really wanted to finish my season and I was not able to,” he said. “I was hospitalized for two weeks after surgery but I kept a positive mentality.” Perez explained. “My coach and my family were very supportive and had a big part in helping me deal with it. I wanted to get better quickly for my team and coach.”
Otay Ranch High School water polo/swim coach Ernie Medina named Perez one of the water polo team’s captains this year. It’s an honor that is not taken lightly.
“He was selected because of his strong will and big heart,” the ORHS coach said. “He continues to give it his all even though he has had health issues. He is a good example and inspiration to his team and us coaches.”
His teammates and coaches were good inspirations to Perez as well. It was through participation in sports that Perez now has a firm hold on the future.
“I appreciate things a lot more, I don’t take things for granted,” he explained. “I plan on graduating and pursuing a degree in audio engineering and I plan on playing polo in college.”