Utah Teen Football Player Diagnosed with Evans Syndrome
November 23, 2014
by Amy Donaldson
As Andy Gunther sat with his wife in a hospital waiting room, the only thing that kept the exhaustion at bay was fear.
Instead of watching their 16-year-old son, Braxton, cement his place as one of Utah’s top prep footballrecruits at a football camp at the University of Utah, the Gunthers waited for doctors to tell them whether or not their son had leukemia.
“It was absolutely horrible,” Gunther said. “First and foremost, you’re dead tired. We got there about 7 p.m. and at 2 o’ clock in the morning, they came in and told us (that they believed Braxton had leukemia). You have your own emotions, but then you’ve got your son, who is supposed to be at a showcase camp for Utah. And now they’re thinking he has cancer. … He’s in tears and can’t believe it; you get him calmed down; they admitted him that night. But you don’t sleep. You sit and look at the wall.”
The talented football standout did not have leukemia. But it would take a number of additional medical tests before doctors could tell the Gunthers what was making their son sick.
It turned out to be a rare blood disorder called Evans syndrome. It’s an autoimmune disease in which Braxton’s antibodies attacked his own blood cells and platelets, leaving him weak, tired and susceptible to infection and illness.
“I was pretty shocked,” Braxton said. “Because just a week earlier, I felt great.”
A mixture of relief, confusion and questions followed the diagnosis. The biggest question was whether or not Braxton would be able to play football.
“At first they were thinking I probably couldn’t play,” said Braxton, who’d earned a starting spot on the varsity team by the end of his freshman season. In fact, he was the only sophomore to start last year, and quickly established himself as a special talent.
He led the team in rushing with 764 yards and nine touchdowns. As a safety, he led the team in tackles (74) and earned three interceptions, which was second on the team. While Braxton enjoys running the ball and scoring touchdowns, he said his passion is defense.
Woods Cross coach Justin Spencer said it’s Gunther’s explosiveness that sets him apart.
“He’s our best downhill tackler,” Spencer said. “He’s a tough kid, and at his size, 6-foot and 185 pounds, he’s a dynamic running back. He plays both ways, but if he was only a running back, he could rush for 1,500 or 2,000 yards.”
At the Mountain West Elite Camp, scouts singled Gunther out as one of the most intriguing prospects in the 2016 class. He was receiving letters from colleges, and it looked like his dream of playing college football would be a certainty.
Which is why Braxton said it was such a gut-punch to learn he had a blood disease so rare, it’s still difficult to understand.
“I felt pretty bad for a while,” Braxton said. “I was pretty sad. I would just sit in my room and think about it. Then I realized, you don’t get anything out of that. It just makes you feel worse.”
He said the pep talks from his parents and coaches soothed him, but he knew only his body could give him permission to have the life he yearned to live.
“Everyone said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’ll be fine’,” he said. “The hardest thing was having people ask if I was going to play when we didn’t know. I just kind of learned that dwelling on it, thinking about it and being negative about it, it won’t really get you anywhere.”
And it wasn’t just Braxton who had to adjust his expectations this fall.
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