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TODAY I WIN! - The Kevin Wilson Story
While Kevin was on the life support machine and the ventilator, he motioned for a piece of paper and wrote the following three words: TODAY I WIN!
By Dr. Greg Shepard
Published: Spring 2000

Kevin Wilson, a 15-year old junior guard from Santana High School in San Diego County, collapsed on the football field during practice on August 23rd of 1999. His father, Don Wilson remembered, “I knew it was at least heat exhaustion. The coaches were putting ice on him. At that point, I thought just get an ambulance here. Get an IV in him and he'll be alright.”
Head football coach, Jerry Ralph recalled, “He'd run his first couple of sprints and then took a knee while removing his helmet. Kevin never stops so we knew it was really serious. We gave him water and iced him down. We even poured water on him. Then he just layed down and progressively got worse.
“I've never seen anyone die before. Kevin was so close. I remember his dad speaking to him . . . like yelling down a tunnel to keep Kevin with us.”F
Don Wilson called his wife Debbie, “Don't panic. Kevin collapsed on the field. And I need you to get down here.” When Mrs. Wilson arrived she said, “Kevin was unconscious, unresponsive to pain and panting. Coach White was cooling him down with ice water and they thought he was overheated. I had no idea how serious he was.”
Kevin shared his memory of that day, “I was running a sprint and the next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. A few days later I went on life support and had a two-inch tube down my throat. I was scared and I was trying to scream but I couldn't because of the ventilator.”
Debbie Wilson analyzed hospital events, “For a yet undetermined reason, (probably the use of an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory) Kevin's kidneys weren't filtering out the lactic acid that had built up during practice. The increase in his acid level kept his body from cooling down causing heat stroke. His high internal temperature as well as the very high acid level damaged all of his internal organs. First, the GI tract failed causing diarrhea and vomiting. The kidneys were failing causing severe swelling until the skin on the underneath side of him began to split. Kevin's liver also began to fail which turned him yellow. His pancreas started to fail so they put him on insulin. The cardiac enzymes showed so much damage that there was concern that he might have suffered a heart attack. The blood vessels were so damaged that a main line was put into his neck which led to his heart in order that blood could be drawn and medications and fluids could be given.
“Kevin's condition was called rebdomylosis in which each body organ takes its turn to fail. We had to sit and watch as he deteriorated and deteriorated and deteriorated. At one point, we almost gave up hope that Kevin would be able to fight and come back.
“By the third day his blood was losing the ability to clot. He was bruising and in danger of having a stroke or internal bleeding. The blood tests showed that all of his organs were continuing to deteriorate. On the fifth day Kevin was put on kidney dialysis requiring another tube to be placed in the other side of his neck which also connected to his heart. Kevin was suffering from fevers so an infection disease specialist was called in to determine the cause. He ordered three pages worth of blood tests. Kevin had so many tests coupled with blood clotting problems that he was given blood transfusions.
“The next organs to fail were his lungs. Kevin stayed awake one night taking deep breaths to avoid being put on the ventilator but his lungs were filling with fluid. He was put on the ventilator the next morning, At this point, Kevin was unable to speak because of the breathing tube. The drugs he was on while on the ventilator caused terrible nightmares and hallucinations.”
Kevin's father, Don, recalled, “As each day went by, Kevin got worse and worse. It took three or four days to find the courage to ask the doctor if he thought Kevin would make it. He told me no.” Over the last ten years, no one with that condition in that hospital had made it out alive.
The truth is that the hospital, at first, did not even want to admit Kevin. Upon admittance even the nurses were not very enthusiastic about caring for their “doomed” patient. The first nurse came in and did her duty. As she was about to leave, she heard a knocking sound coming from the bed. It was Kevin. He couldn't talk but he managed to use his hands to request a piece of paper and a pen. Exhausted he wrote the following two words: “Thank you.” From then on the nurses would practically fight over who would get to care for Kevin. Every time the nurses would attend him, Kevin would scrawl out his “thank you” on a piece of paper.
“I never thought I was going to die,” said Kevin, “but the doctors all thought so. There was never any doubt that I'd get to play. Coach Ralph was one of the very few that never gave up. I remember he'd tell people that Kevin can do anything he sets his mind to do. He can come back if he wants to.”
Kevin just kept thinking, “I'm losing. I'm losing. I'm losing. All the tubes, the medications. I just got tired of it and wanted to win for a change. I looked down and saw all the people in the room who had helped me through the years in football, karate and all the things I've done. All the athletics. I looked at myself and they weren't giving up on me. I wasn't about to start then.”
Mr. Wilson said with emotion, “While Kevin was on the life support machine and the ventilator, he motioned for a piece of paper and wrote the following three words: Today I WIN. You could just see in his eyes that he was going to turn it around. From that point on he got better and better. Like just in no time.”
“The next set of blood tests,” said Mrs. Wilson, “showed that the kidneys were beginning to kick in. Everything was starting to get a little bit better. Kevin had just decided that he had had it. He was tired of the life support and he was going to fight.”
Kevin offered, “The power of the mind and your will is incredible when you have to use it. You can do things you can't imagine.”
Friday, while in intensive care, Kevin wrote a letter of inspiration to his team before their preseason game. (in the box to the left)
After writing the letter, Kevin declared that he would be at the first season game the following Friday. No one thought it was possible, even the doctors, but he made it. He was discharged on September 10th, just hours before game time. Kevin walked with his teammates onto the field and participated in the coin toss. A few days later, Kevin told his parents that he would play again during the 1999 season. But his muscles had all been damaged from the acid in his system and he had lost 30 pounds. Kevin went to physical therapy with the goal of playing in the homecoming game which was still a month away. These goals came after the doctors, who to this day still cannot explain how he survived, told Kevin he would be in the hospital for the next six months. Playing football, they said, wasn't even an option. Kevin used this as an incentive to aid his recovery and like his mom said, “Once he has set a goal, he does it.”
While staging his comeback in the hospital, Santee (Kevin's community) and surrounding communities were staging fundraisers to help support him because of the lack of insurance coverage. “It's been amazing.” said Kevin with gratefulness. “People we don't know are sending us money. People in the community and businesses have done things for us. They printed up t-shirts to sell. It's just amazing to see the amount of people that will come out and help you when you need it. You see all the horrible things that happen on the news. Something like this sort of restores your faith in humanity.”
Mrs. Wilson added, “Without us asking, they've all just jumped in and done all these benefits, car washes and fundraisers for him. A wonderful young man from the Valhalla team put it really well when he said, ‘We might be competitors but were more comrades because were athletes.' It really touches me to see this. Yes, when they get on the field, they compete but they are brothers at heart.”
Kevin ate constantly during his recovery and slept a lot. The doctors cleared the way for Kevin to suit up for homecoming on October 22nd. He actually got to play a few downs as the Santana Sultans remained undefeated. The team had a sign in their locker room: Today We WIN. As Kevin got stronger, so did the team. Everyday every player would touch that sign before they went to practice or to play a game.
“The team's support of the Wilson family was tremendous,” said Coach Ralph. It helped them through their tough time. There was a core group of guys that went to the hospital every day. And we are really proud of how our team practiced and worked hard. They were motivated by Kevin wanting to get better and better and get back on the field. Kevin is going to do whatever the heck he wants because he is so amazing and just because of the love of competition he has and how much heart he has. To come up with something like ‘Today I Win’ is an inspiring statement.
Kevin would go through the whole practice during the last part of the season but once in awhile he would have to take a break. There was no macho stuff. Kevin stated, “It was a risk to go out on the field but it was worth it.”
Coach Ralph came to Santana three years ago and inherited a team that had just gone 0-10 and had only won four games in the 1990's. Coach Ralph had a BFS Clinic and instituted the BFS program. Under Coach Ralph's leadership, the Santana Sultans put in the time and effort to change. Kevin's attitude put extra fuel on their burning desire to be the best. Santana had their first ever undefeated 10-0 season plus another two playoff victories. Jerry Ralph was named Coach of the Year. It was indeed a season to remember for a lifetime.
Kevin concluded, “I feel like I've been given a second chance. No one at the hospital had ever survived rebdomylosis. I was the first. (Nationwide, approxmately 8% survive from this kind of multi-organ failure) I feel like I have to do something now. I can't go through all this and stop and do nothing with myself. I have to make something out of my life now. I've learned what's important in life. The only things that really matter are the people you love. There is nothing between you and death besides the people that care about you.
“Before I was more into myself. I've learned to cherish those people in my life. There is always someone to help you. Nothing is hopeless. You can always fight to win. I've always believed in God but now it's a little more realistic.”

I thank Coach Ralph, his staff and the Wilsons for sharing Kevin's story. Most of all I thank Kevin for being such a great inspiration.
On a scale of one to ten, Kevin is an eleven!




“Well guys, here we are. I can't be there tonight but I have something to say. Since what happened on the field, I've learned something. You never know when your last chance may come. I may not get to play this season but some of you may never play again. Life is a game of chance. What happened to me was nobody's fault but I can't help but feel jealous. Our school has never been known for football. We have a chance to change that. We have this one shining opportunity to be remembered forever. For some of us, this is the final season. The beginning of the end. Let's make it count. I lost the chance I had. Don't lose yours. Tonight you will win.”

Kevin Wilson’s letter to his teammates





“I feel like I've been given a second chance. I was the first person at the hospital to survive rebdomylosis. I feel like I have to do something now”

- Kevin Wilson

A copy of the actual writing of Kevin while in the hosiptal.
Kevin during the playoffs with with his parents, Don and Debbie Wilson, and Greg Shepard
During practice on August 23rd 1999, Kevin collapsed. He was later
Kevin with head coach Jerry Ralph and line coach Tim White. Jerry remembered, “Kevin never stops, so when he took a knee during practice, we knew it was serious.”
Kevin’s remarkable ability to reach down and be a true champion is hard to match. Here Kevin and Greg are doing a little “one on one” in the weightroom last November.

Return to Spring 2000 Articles


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