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Football player makes a comeback

by Melissa McKeown

CooperForget the come-from-behind victories shown on the sports channels. After a year of struggling with a potentially life-threating illness, redshirt sophomore linebacker Chad Cooper has written his own comeback story.

Last December, Cooper was busy with final exams and Gator Bowl preparations when he became extremely ill. At first he thought that he was only suffering from a bad case of mononucleosis, but he quickly realized that it was much more serious. A trip to the hospital revealed that he had developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), a somewhat rare disorder of the nervous system.

"With Guillain-Barre, they know it's triggered by some other illness," Cooper says. "What happens is, your body just breaks down and can't fight the illness, and it eats the sheathing around your nerves and paralyzes you. Once it gets to a certain stage, it happens quickly. It could happen in a day and then you're paralyzed."

The transition between playing football one day and being paralyzed the next came with shocking speed. Cooper remained in the hospital for a month, and after learning how to walk again, he was finally able to go home to Herndon, Va. Returning to school was out of the question, and doctors were unable to tell Cooper when he would recover or if he would play football again. Virtually everything was an unknown and Cooper says he didn't know what to expect.

"I just got so sick that it was like a dream. I was so tired and weak--I didn't know what to think. But I had a real comforting feeling because of the people who were around me --my family, Doc [Duane] Lagan, my team, the outside people who wrote me letters, just everyone," Cooper says. "All their support definitely helped me through this."

With this strong support system backing him, Cooper was ready to begin his journey on the road to recovery. While many GBS patients take years to recover from their illness, Cooper worked as hard as he possibly could to return.

After spending his spring semester in therapy, Cooper returned to Tech for the summer, taking classes and trying to get back into shape for football. His hard work has paid off, enabling him to return to the field this season. This amazing comeback could be attributed to Cooper's strong will and determination.

"I want to prove to myself that I can go out there and accomplish the same goals I had before what happened to me, and accomplish them in the same time frame I wanted to accomplish them in before," he says. "It might take me a little longer to get where I want to be, but my goals haven't changed."

While Cooper may classify his illness as "just another event," he does realize that he is fortunate to be where he is right now. Even so, his focus remains on a promising future rather than a difficult past.

"I feel that this was a total learning experience," Cooper says. "It's just going to make me stronger now. I could talk about all the difficulties I've had with it, but I'm over that now, and I don't feel I need to dwell on anything. I just take what I've learned, and I carry that with me."

Melissa McKeown is an intern in the sports information office.