As if a storm was breaking out inside his skull, a tidal wave of pressure swept over his temple like a tsunami beating against a coastline, and the mind-numbing pain proved too much to bear.
Frozen in agony, Nathan Diederich buckled over on the floor of his bathroom, gripping the sides of a porcelain toilet and began to vomit.
“It was pretty much a split second — I was perfectly fine and then I bent over and my eyes hurt. I could feel the pressure behind my eyes, and I just felt like my brain was trying to expand out of my skull,” Diederich recalled. “I sort of just collapsed. … It was so much pain that I really couldn’t move.”
Between retches that seemed to shake his body to its core, the 15-year-old Ellison sophomore called out for his father, beating his hand against the side of wooden cabinets underneath the sink.
“That was scary,” his father said.
With his son unable to stand, Kurt Diederich went into “emergency-mode,” pulling a T-shirt over Nathan’s head, grabbing a pair of shoes, picking up his son like a bag of potatoes and carrying him to the car to head to the emergency room at the Metroplex Hospital in Killeen.
While Nathan’s brain fought to get out, his parents’ minds were racing at the cause of this crisis. A few days before Thanksgiving in 2011, Nathan suffered a similar scare but was sent home with a shot of prednisone for a severe migraine.
But this was no migraine.
Following a battery of tests — including a CT scan and three MRIs — and an ambulance ride to McLane Children’s Hospital Scott & White in Temple, a team of doctors discovered the cause of Nathan’s pain — a four-inch blood clot at the base of his brain.
The Diederichs spent the rest of Nov. 28, 2011, waiting, their son lying in semi-consciousness in a hospital bed, with tubes jutting from his hands and nose, no answers in sight.
For the Ellison soccer player, who often found his greatest joy sprinting up and down the length of the field dribbling a ball around defenders, Nathan seemed out of place in the sterilized bed.
“That was hard, even thinking about it now I get teary,” Ellison soccer coach Niles Dunnells said. “You think about these young kids as invincible, and then they suddenly have something like that take so much away, it was really tough to see him lying there unable to do much of anything (because) he was so feeble.”
Later that first night, Kurt Diederich was given a basic explanation — Nathan was experiencing a rare case of cerebral venous sinus thrombosis, which indicated the presence of a blood clot in the dural venous sinuses, which drain blood from the brain.
“You don’t want to go there where you’re thinking the worst,” Kurt Diederich said.
“But we knew anything could happen — those clots can kill you instantly,” Nathan’s mother, Julia Diederich, said.
There also was the matter of what caused the clot to form. After a battery of tests and seven days in the hospital, doctors had no solid cause for Nathan’s clot. They still don’t.
Nathan spent the next week trying not to move. Turning his head, laughing, even eating, sent shockwaves of pain ripping through his head.
“The pain was mainly just overwhelming. ... There really wasn’t much to think about,” Nathan said. “You can’t get your mind off the pain.”
His only reprieve was an injection of Dilaudid every couple of hours. When the time came for his next dose, Nathan was practically pleading with nurses to administer it.
Making matters worse, the pressure from the blood collecting in the back of his skull was trying to force his brain out through his eyes, giving Nathan double vision.
“I got pretty scared pretty fast,” Nathan said after waking on the morning of his third day in the hospital and seeing two TVs in the room.
Only visits from friends, teammates and coaches made his hospital stay bearable.
Although the headaches subsided once he left the hospital, the pain didn’t stop with the trip home.
Before leaving Scott & White on Dec. 6, 2011, doctors delivered the most crushing blow — Nathan had to undergo daily anticoagulant treatments for the next several months and couldn’t participate in any contact sports.
In other words: no soccer.
“When you’re on that, you bleed very easily, so I couldn’t get hit in the stomach or the head or I’d bleed to death internally,” Nathan said. “That meant you can’t head the ball, so you can’t play soccer.”
After being told three or four months of anticoagulants should break down the clot, the heartbreak continued at a March 5 checkup.
“When she said no, we all just wept,” Kurt said of the doctor’s prognosis that more time was needed.
“Full-out crying for about 30 minutes or so,” Nathan added.
Three more months meant he’d miss all of his sophomore season, and a large chunk of the spring club season.
Having won the District 12-5A newcomer of the year with seven goals as a freshman, Nathan was forced to watch from the sidelines as his Eagles suffered through a subpar 2012 season (6-13-5, 3-9-2 12-5A).
“The team embraced me, but I just felt helpless during games,” Nathan said. “You see that you could be an impact maker, (yet) you can’t do anything. You can’t suit up and play, and that’s the most helpless feeling.”
During his time away from the game, Nathan learned more about himself and soccer. He treated it like a giant study session, seeing all aspects of the game instead of focusing on what was directly in front of him.
“It was kind of a blessing in disguise, because you learn a lot from just sitting and watching,” Nathan said.
He was finally cleared to stop treatments on June 18, giving him the opportunity to return to action in time to attend several college camps at SMU, Virginia and North Carolina. He also helped his Tri-County Cavalry ’94 White club team win the Division I state title in September.
“When I (experienced) that, it was like (during) those seven months I really didn’t miss (anything),” Nathan said.
Back in the game
Remnants of the clot are lodged in the vein above his brain stem, and without proper adherence to certain things, such as staying hydrated, the pain can come rushing back.
“If I don’t drink water throughout the day, I’ll get little sharp pains (in my head). ... It’s like a needle being poked from inside (of my head) out,” Nathan said.
Nathan’s final checkup was in September, and doctors assured him blood flow was moving naturally throughout his brain.
Two months later, about a year after discovering the blood clot, Nathan made his biggest stride to date — he went up for a header.
“To see him play, it’s absolutely miraculous to know what he’s going through and to see him perform,” Dunnells said.
Because his condition could one day return, Nathan has been careful about using his head and body to go up and get balls as a precaution.
But Jan. 18 against Atascocita, with his team trailing 2-0 late in the second day of the famed Governor’s Cup soccer tournament in Georgetown, Nathan wasn’t thinking about anything but getting the ball.
Leaping into the air with an Atascocita player, his head leading the whole way, Nathan collided with his opponent and both crumpled to the ground.
Despite needing stitches in his lip for a little bleeding, Nathan returned to the game and scored Ellison’s first goal in the 59th minute in what finished as a 2-2 tie. Already this season, 16-year-old Nathan leads the Eagles (6-2-1) with four goals.
“It’s the little encouragement that (helps me) feel that I’m on the upswing and nothing can stop me now,” Nathan said.
Contact Alex Byington at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7566