Patterson bonds with high school star over health issue

Sep 14 2011 - 5:16pm

PHILADELPHIA -- Kyle Van Atta listened to the unfamiliar voice share a familiar tale. The high school senior lineman from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., felt comforted. He knew he was not alone while he was talking to Mike Patterson.

"It was really cool talking to him," he said. "I didn't want to seem overly excited, not like a fan. I was really trying to hold back my emotions."

Van Atta had a seizure in the middle of the night on July 11. Less than a month later, in the first week of training camp, Patterson, an Eagles defensive tackle, had a similar seizure on the field during practice. Each had something called an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangle of blood vessels in the brain.

Last week, Patterson called Van Atta at his home.

"He was really excited to talk to somebody about it," Patterson said. "What he has is a little different from what I have, but there are similarities."

Van Atta was mostly looking for advice and some reassurance.

"I was excited to talk to a football player having kind of the same malformation that I do, the same situation that I'm in," Van Atta said. "It was great to finally talk to somebody who is going through this, about the recovery process. It's great to hear from people on the outside that it's going to be OK. It's kind of hard to accept it from them. Hearing it from Mr. Patterson helped me a lot."

Patterson had reassuring words for the young man.

"I just told him to stay positive," Patterson said. "You know what the doctors are telling you. You want the best answers, but the doctors can only give you what they are seeing."

Like Patterson, Van Atta, 6-4, 280, is a lineman. Unlike Patterson, the longest-tenured Eagle, Van Atta is just 17. Not knowing is never easy as an adult, but even harder as a child. Van Atta, however, is no normal teenager.

His grandfather owns the Destin Airport, 10 minutes from his home. Kyle has been flying planes since he was 9 years old, officially since he was 12. When he goes to college, and he is on the recruiting radar of several big-time schools, he plans to major in aeronautical engineering.

The two linemen bonded over their shared experiences.

"It was just like with me," Patterson said. "When the doctors come in, you just don't know what they're going to say. It's always, 'We've got some good news and some bad news.' You just never know what it's going to really be."

In both cases, easy answers were not immediately forthcoming. Patterson's case was understood rather quickly and he started for the Eagles in Sunday's win over the Rams. Patterson saw three specialists and had test results sent to another. He is on anti-seizure medication and likely will undergo either surgery or radiation after the season.

Van Atta's condition took a bit longer to diagnose, but it too looks like it will have a happy ending. Monday afternoon, Van Atta was at Emory Hospital in Atlanta to visit a neurovascular surgeon and get final clearance to return to the field.

"It went pretty well," Van Atta said after the visit. "I was cleared to condition as much as I want to. So I can lift and do sprints. I'm taking it as I can push sleds."

The doctor said he did not see any reason Van Atta could not go back to playing football, but he wanted to consult with some colleagues before giving final clearance to play. Van Atta expects that clearance in about a week.

Van Atta has what is known as a cerebral proliferative angiopathy (CPA), an AVM cousin. After 12 hours at Fort Walton Beach Medical Center undergoing tests to determine why he had the seizure, he was rushed by ambulance 250 miles due north to the University of Alabama-Birmingham Hospital. It was there that an angiogram was performed; pictures of his brain were taken to ascertain blood flow and the diagnosis confirmed.

When he went back two weeks later for a follow-up visit, he was actually cleared to return to football. But he got a severe headache between two-a-day practices and has been held out since, missing his team's first two games.

"I'm not trying to beat my chest or anything, but I don't hold myself out of practices," Van Atta said. "This headache was scary stuff. It scared the crap out of me that it hurt that bad."

Coincidentally, he had a doctor's appointment between practices to change some of his medication. He was asked if he had suffered any headaches. He told them what he was feeling.

The doctor immediately pulled him from practice. Van Atta was second-guessing his decision to speak up, but he has had no recurrence. Meanwhile, he has been filming the games.

When Patterson heard about Van Atta's situation, he wanted to make that call.

"I thought it was very important, especially talking to a young athlete going through it," Patterson said. "It's always a positive thing when you can talk to somebody who went through a somewhat similar thing that you went through."

Van Atta really wanted to go to the Naval Academy or Air Force Academy, but he was recently told he probably would not be able to enter the military because of the seizures. He loves Florida State 150 miles to the east, but FSU does not offer his preferred major. So, he is wide open for college.

He seems pretty certain of playing high school football again.

"I will most definitely miss the next game, but hopefully not the (one after that)," Van Atta said. "I don't see me missing more than two (more) games."

And when he hears about this, Mike Patterson is sure to be pleased.

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