Dover's Shad Murphy thrives on football field while battling cystic fibrosis
- Dover senior lineman Shad Murphy is one of 30,000 Americans suffering from cystic fibrosis.
- Murphy was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 4 back in 2004.
- As a junior last season, Murphy was named a York-Adams League all-star by the league's coaches.
One quick look at Dover senior Shad Murphy and you wouldn't know that he's dealing with a rare, sometimes debilitating illness.
Until last year, even Murphy's high school classmates didn't realize he was sick.
Murphy is one of about 30,000 Americans living with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that causes constant lung infections and the inability to breathe over time. Even he acknowledges that, for the average CF patient, his size is an anomaly. At 6-feet and 220 pounds, Murphy far exceeds the average size of someone with CF. So it can be easy to overlook that anything is wrong with him.
However, if you watch the all-star perform on the football field, or witness the intricate process he must go through daily to ensure that his body functions at its best, and you'll soon realize that he isn't just another high schooler.
He's far from it.
"Every morning (at 5:30 a.m.), I wake up and do a 20-minute treatment," Murphy said. "I strap on a vest and that shakes (mucus in his lungs) around. Along with that, I'm doing two inhalers. If I didn't do football, I'd be doing three treatments a day. But, when I get home from football, I do another treatment for 20 minutes and then after that, depending on which month it is, I have one drug that's an inhalant and it steams. That's every month, but then the other two months, it's a capsule that crushes up and I breathe that in."
Early diagnosis: Murphy has been going through this treatment since he was diagnosed with CF at age 4.
He was with his family at their cabin when they finally decided something needed to be done with his constant coughing and refusal to eat anything. Whatever he did eat, he instantly threw up. They went to the family doctor in Dover and blood tests revealed that the doctors missed diagnosing Murphy with CF at birth.
Murphy was fortunate they caught his diagnosis at such a young age because, he said, some people don't realize they have it until their 20s or 30s.
Scary moment: One of the major side effects for people with CF is that, when they sweat, they lose a lot of salt.
It leads to severe dehydration and intense cramping, something that Murphy has become all too familiar with. Yet, there was no moment as scary as the one he suffered before his sophomore season in August of 2015.
After going through the last day of "Hell Week," as the players call the first week of practice, Murphy was changing in the locker room when he began cramping. It started in his feet and then moved up through his legs and core, before making its way through his arms and into his hands.
At the time, school certified athletic trainer Dave App and Murphy's father were with him, trying to wait out the cramping, supplying him with as much water as needed. After roughly an hour, according to App, they finally called for an ambulance. At most, they were expecting Murphy to get pumped with about two bags of fluid and he'd be sent home.
As he arrived at WellSpan York Hospital, however, Murphy suffered a seizure, caused by the lack of salt in his body. After he came out of it, the doctors went to give him a CAT scan, in case it was brought on by a concussion, when he seized up again, prompting the doctors to Life Lion him by helicopter to Hershey Medical Center, where he could be treated by CF doctors.
"(My family) was extremely scared," Murphy said. "They'd never seen me or anybody else have one and I guess I was on the cart, they said my whole body just locked up and went stiff, like a board, and my eyes rolled back."
That was the most severe moment for Murphy and it ultimately led to everyone around him understanding that it's all about his salt levels, not his fluids.
Playing football with CF: Now that Murphy, App, head coach Wayne Snelbaker and everyone else at Dover knows how to handle his CF, they help him properly prepare for practices and games.
Drinking gallons of water actually dilutes his salt levels, further hurting Murphy. Instead, he takes salt tablets and drinks up to four bottles a day of adult Pedialyte, which is full of electrolytes to increase his salt levels.
"Normally, earlier in the year, it's a bit tougher for him because when you sweat, if you taste your sweat, it's salty because you sweat out a lot of salt," App said. "So, for him, that's bad because his salt levels can drop pretty low. So, the hotter it is, the more he sweats and the more salt he's losing, so generally, in the summer time, it's worse for him."
It does help that Murphy is an athlete and stays in good shape. CF patients who aren't active tend to have worse issues because their endurance levels aren't as high. Murphy's lungs, however, operate well above average for a CF patient his age who doesn't play sports.
Since fully understanding what it takes to ensure that Murphy is ready to go and his salt levels are where they need to be, he's been more effective on the field.
Last year, early in the season, he was barely making it past halftime before the cramps would begin. This season, he played the entire Shippensburg game in Week 1 and most of last week's contest against Steel-High.
He has his limits, though. When it comes to fatigue, most athletes will always try to dig a little deeper to find the willpower to make it through one more play. With Murphy, however, when he feels the cramps coming, he plays right up to when they hit and then hopes they eventually pass. When they do, he'll give it one more shot until they pop up again before he knows his night is likely finished.
"I don't stop myself before I cramp," Murphy said. "I'll just wait till it comes, go down and wait for the trainer to come out and start stretching me out. Then, I'll go back to Pedialyte, take a couple salt tablets and see if I can go back in the game."
Bringing about awareness: According to Snelbaker, Murphy has all the tools to play college football.
It's just a matter of making sure he goes to a school that handles his situation properly. Because of that, Murphy is holding off of making any post-high school football plans.
He also competes in track for Dover, where he does javelin, shot put and discus, joking that he's "not a runner."
To raise awareness for CF, his family holds charity events, while the high school sold rubber wristbands and T-shirts last year to help raise money. The school raised nearly $2,000 through the T-shirt and wristband drive, while Murphy's family has raised more than $500,000 in the 14 years since his diagnosis through golf outings, letter drives and other fundraisers. Kevin Myers, Dallastown's football coach, has been helping to raise money for Team Shad and the CF Foundation for the past 13 years, as well.
Perhaps Murphy's most significant impact is the way he's become a leader and inspiration for his teammates. Despite any limitations he might have, he's managed to become a York-Adams League All-Star.
Whether his time as a football player ends in little more than two months or extends into college, he's already proven that he won't allow CF define him, as a person or an athlete.
"Heart for heart, the kid's got more of it than some of these kids do," Snelbaker said. "They don't know what it is to hurt. This kid is here hurting and he still wants to go. Friday night, he comes out of the game, he's cramping and we're in the locker room and he says, 'Sorry.' Sorry for what? You gave us everything you got."
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org