By Ken Barhorst
Houston junior David Stammen will be competing in the State Track Meet Friday in Columbus in the discus.
And what he does when he gets there will just be icing on the cake, because competing at state is something that seemed all but impossible not that long ago.
“I was definitely gearing up for next year,” said Stammen. “I was stunned when I made it this year.”
Stammen told his coach just last week that he was going to keep working so he could get to state next year. But he didn’t have to wait that long.
Stammen is a remarkable story. Back in December of 2015, after feeling ill for about four months, he was diagnosed at Dayton Children’s Hospital with Anaplastic large cell lymphoma — cancer.
“It started in September when he just wasn’t feeling good,” said his father Doug. “At first the doctors said it was allergies, and then they said it was mono. But in December he still wasn’t any better and just progressively getting worse. So I told him I was taking him back to the doctor.
“We took him to Children’s, and after an hour and a half, the doctor comes out and says ‘hey, we want to do more tests,’ ” he continued. “Not even two minutes after he said that, he walked out of the room and they came and got David and took him in. The doctor talked to us a little bit more, and we knew it was bad. He told us, ‘this is not good.’ And he said I’m pretty sure this is something we need to look at a little more. He told us it was cancer. To hear that just kills you.”
The was nothing they could do for him that day, so the family headed back home.
“We had to go home with no medication or anything,” said Doug, a Sidney firefighter.
The doctors first started David on therapy right after Christmas. “We had to get his levels right and all that,” said his father. “They put my wife and I through a class. If he had a temperature of 100.4 or higher, and it didn’t come down in a half hour or 45 minutes, we had to go right back to Children’s.”
While he was in Children’s, he was in an experimental program with special medication, his father said. And wherever the family went, the medication went too. And if they forgot it, they had to go home and get it.
“He had to have somebody with him all the time,” Doug said. “He had to check his own temperature because if it was elevated, that says you have an infection and your blood levels aren’t right.”
Once those levels were right, the chemotherapy treatments began, and with those came the loss of his hair and a lot of weight. They estimated he got down to as low at 140 pounds, but in all, with periodic weight gain and weight loss, he probably lost 70 pounds.
In January of last year, he spent all but four days in the hospital, celebrating his 16th birthday while there.
David admitted there were plenty of days when he just didn’t want to get out of bed, and others where he simply could not. The sickness was enough to wear him out, and adding chemo treatments on top of that left him without much strength.
“There were days when I literally couldn’t get out of bed,” David recalled.
“We had to make him get up, and he hated it,” said Doug.
But he made it back on a slow and steady pace.
“I’m back to my weight, but I want to get a little more of my strength back for track,” he said. “When I first went back into the weight room a lot of the younger kids were looking me kinda strange because I was lifting the same weights they were.”
His coach, longtime Houston track coach Ron Boeke, called David a “tough nugget.”
“He lost a lot of weight and we tried to talk to him and keep him upbeat,” Boeke said. “He was pretty much out of school his sophomore year, and when he couldn’t throw (the discus) last year, I think that was big motivation for him to get back and do something.
“He’s just a natural discus thrower,” he added. “The way he spins. He’s pretty much self-taught. He kinda started out too hard maybe when he came back and his body just wasn’t ready for it. He wasn’t allowed to do a lot of the core lifting. So he was limited at first. But as the year progressed, he just got stronger and stronger.”
While he was hospitalized, he got a visit from the Special Wish Foundation, and it’s a story his dad loves to tell.
“Special wish sent us to Alaska,” his father said. “They came and asked — and this is how humble he is — what he likes to do, and he said he liked to fish. And they asked him what kind of fishing he like to do and he said he guessed he like to go up to Lake Loramie. And when they pressed him a little, he said ‘OK, Indian Lake.’
“They called and told me I needed to work on this a little harder,” his father continued. “We’d been to Lake Erie before and he said okay, we can go to Erie. So I said you can go to Florida and fish the gulf or Alaska… And he said let’s go to Alaska.”
They met David’s grandparents there. (They drove from Florida to Alaska pulling a fifth wheel camper, and were on the road a month). When the family returned home, they had 50 pounds of halibut and some great memories.”
The Stammens admitted to being overwhelmed at the support they received not only from the Houston school and community, but from all around Shelby County, with several events organized to raise funds to help the family with the hospital bills.
“A lot of kids rallied around him,” Doug said. “They had a 5K for him, and had ‘David Strong’ T-shirts made. It was amazing how much support we got, from all over.”
And it was all for a great cause.
Stammen will compete in the discus Friday starting at 4 p.m.