More MS news articles for September 2002

Lineman Battles Multiple Sclerosis

Sept 25, 2002
Associated Press

At times, after he injects himself with medication, football practice becomes too much for Khiawatha Downey.

"Sometimes I feel good and sometimes I don't," said Downey, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound offensive lineman for Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania. "I get headaches, fatigue and nausea, and about 75 other things. It's no fun."

Downey has multiple sclerosis, one of about 300,000 Americans and 2 million people worldwide with the degenerative disease.

The condition affects the central nervous system. It can cause a serious loss of muscle control as well as loss of strength and vision problems, among other symptoms.

Downey's primary battle is with the side effects of the medication that he has taken for two years. The injections on Sunday make his head woozy and his legs weak. His stomach does flip-flops for two days. All of which makes it nearly impossible for him to practice.

"I practice as much as I can, but there are some days where I can't do anything," he said. "It just takes so much out of me."

Coach Frank Cignetti said Downey handles it extremely well.

"But how does he internalize it? How does it affect him mentally? I don't know," the coach said. "But as far as managing it and trying to play football, he's doing an excellent job."

Cignetti added, "I'm sure it has (affected him), but I don't know if it hurt his skills. It just hurt his ability to play in practice."

IUP head trainer Frank Trenney said Downey does not require special treatment.

"All we can do is keep an eye on him and listen to him when he says he's not feeling well," Trenney said.

Downey, who is from Charlotte, N.C., transferred to Indiana after two years at Pittsburgh, where he joined the lineup as a redshirt freshman in 1999. He started 18 games in two years for the NCAA Division I-A Panthers.

At Pittsburgh, Downey was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis after tests to determine why he suffered from frequent "stingers" - a painful nerve injury in the neck and shoulders that generally occurs after severe contact.

Doctors told Downey's mother, April Richardson, who passed on the diagnosis to her son.

"It just sort of rolled off me at first. I didn't think too much about it until two or three months later," Downey said. "I think my mom was more concerned about it than I was."

But after a few months, Downey decided to join his mother in researching the disease. He also talked to a Pitt teammate, Ryan Smith, whose mother has MS. It was then he decided to take the injections, knowing the side effects would be difficult.

Downey was suspended from Pittsburgh for violating team rules in 2001 and considered transferring to a school closer to North Carolina. Instead, he signed with Indiana, a small-college power.

The team is ranked No. 14 in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll. Downey hopes that pro scouts who watched him at Pitt are still charting his career.

"If I play well, the word will get out," Downey said. "The doctors have said I can keep playing football, and as long as I keep taking the injections I'll have a good life."

Copyright 2002 Associated Press