Kyle Wilder authoring greatest comeback yet

On a late September afternoon, Chelmsford senior Kyle Wilder asked a question no 17-year old should ever have to utter.

“Am I going to die?”

Now nearly two months later Kyle is at home with a semblance of peace, using the same qualities that built him into a varsity quarterback to overcome a life-altering two weeks and find hope in his future.

“Always believe and never give up,” Kyle said. “I always believed and I never gave up and I am here today smiling.”

Kyle was always the quarterback of Chelmsford’s future. A commensurate role model for his teammates, Kyle is defined not by bravado or flamboyance but rather a calm, kind-spirited nature filled with internal resilience. His first varsity pass as a freshman late in the season was a touchdown. In his sophomore and junior campaigns the team went 8-3 and last year hosted a state tournament game. Yet his senior year never made it past week three.

On Friday Sept. 22, Kyle made a rare appearance on defense against Methuen and took a helmet to the thigh as he brought down a tackler along the sideline. His leg swelled but adrenaline got him through the game. The swelling persisted through the weekend and constant pain ensued, leaving Kyle sitting in his car for what felt like eons driving to and from school for a Saturday visit to the athletic trainer.

Still experiencing throbbing pain, his father Kevin decided to take Kyle’s blood pressure on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 26.

“I thank my lucky stars Kevin did that,” Alison, Kyle’s mom, said. “It was 80 over 50.”

Kyle proceeded to a pediatrician and then Lowell General, where he was swarmed by medical personnel who entered him into triage, connected him with IV’s, used ultrasounds to check for internal bleeding, and grabbed a swab from an acquired turf burn. Kyle’s blood pressure continued to plummet to less than 100 combined.

“At that moment I thought, ‘Am I going to die?’ I asked the doctors that,” Kyle said. “They said they were going to medflight me to Boston Children’s so that was another reason I was wondering, ‘What the hell is happening to me?’ It was very scary.”

Now at Children’s Hospital, Kyle’s condition only worsened. Kyle’s family watched as doctors were unable after multiple medications to raise his blood pressure. It reached as low as 53 over 37. Kyle went into septic shock, stemming from necrotizing fasciitis which was killing his flesh and organs from the inside. The infection spread from a minor turf burn he accrued on his knee weeks prior into the contusion on his thigh. Kidney damage from the trauma ensued.

“They were going to do an MRI to see what was going on,” Alison said. “Then the next thing you know they clear the schedule for him to go into the OR. They did not know if they could wait 30 minutes. It was that grim.”

Kyle remained in surgery for multiple hours Wednesday then again on Thursday. The doctors were clear to the family his situation was hour-by-hour. He was connected to multiple IVs, a breathing tube, and was sedated for five days as doctors looked for him to maintain his energy. Finally, following his third surgery early the following week, doctors expressed optimism. They located an infection in his leg during the first surgery which had only attached to some muscle and none of the bone, helping to avoid amputation.

The odds of such an infection were near impossible. The medical team lamented to Alison and Kevin the minimal probability of such an ailment; well below one percent.

Kyle awoke after nearly a week. For days the doctors had kept an ACE bandage around the incision down his right leg that stretched 21 inches. When Kyle awoke, the bandage happened to be removed as the doctors cleaned the opening.

“One morning I woke up and I realized there was no bandage and I remember my thigh was hurt and I looked down at it and there was a massive open incision. I was like, ‘what the f*** happened to me?’ ” Kyle recalled.

Now awake after nearly a week, Kyle confronted a new reality. He could barely move his arms from the amount of IVs within him and could not stand on his own. He had lost 30 pounds. Since he was five years old, when Alison signed him up for what she thought was touch football, Kyle loved the sport. Now, within a blink of an eye it vanished. No postseason quest or a Merrimack Valley Conference run. No touchdown passes on Thanksgiving Day.

His goalposts changed from winning quarterback to simply re-learning how to walk. In the meantime, as word spread throughout the Chelmsford community with regards to Kyle’s situation, encouragement came pouring in from all avenues.

Chelmsford and Merrimack Valley Conference foe Tewksbury Memorial High School both sent in autographed footballs. Student-athletes and coaches from across the Bay State and into New Hampshire reached out to express support. His friends sent in a collage of photos that were used by doctors as a means to help him point and remember.

“He was out of it but he could hear us, and we would read cards to him and messages,” Kevin said. “People reached out from everywhere. The football community is just incredible. So much support in the local community and across the board. It meant the world.”

Speech therapists, occupational therapists, and other medical professionals gradually got Kyle able to move to a chair next to his bed on his own. They checked his blood pressure every four hours. He regained strength to do remedial skills like brush his teeth. Frustration built up. He wanted to be independent. He was grateful for the team of professionals, but wanted out of the hospital. He wanted to make it to senior night.

“I had to push myself up when I woke up in the mornings in the hospital,” Kyle said. “I got very light-headed and dizzy doing a lot of this stuff because it was a lot for me to do after sitting and sleeping for almost nine days.”

Doctors were amazed at Kyle’s progress. They did a final close of his incision four days faster than expected. He regained the ability to move his arms. They removed the feeding tube. He found solace in little accomplishments like being able to shower. After 11 days in the ICU and six more recovering at Children’s hospital, Kyle returned home on Oct. 12.

“Senior night is a special night,” Kyle said. “I’ve played football my whole life. And I did not want to miss it.”

On Oct. 27, the goal-oriented steward of the Lions offense appeared at senior night wheeled out by his family as his name was announced. The chance to attend the evening festivities versus Central Catholic provided an escape to normalcy. In attendance was a member of the medflight team that airlifted Kyle to Boston Children’s. It provided them a rare glimpse at a success story.

“It was an incredible atmosphere and with good reason,” Central Catholic coach John Sexton said. “I remember going over to him and his family and it was just tremendous to see them there. There was a reason to smile.”

While Kyle attended one other Chelmsford game, most of his time has been spent in an auxiliary apartment connected to his family’s house. Kevin and Kyle’s sister, Krista, brought his mattress down into the living room so he did not have to move up the stairs. He still is largely confined to a wheelchair, something he hopes to dispatch in the near future. Most of his days are spent playing video games and talking with friends.

He finally returned to online school in mid-November and has had a few friends come by to reestablish face-to-face relationships.

He receives nurse home visits three times a week to interchange a wound-VAC connected to his leg that helps drain built-up liquid. Multiple times a week he goes into Boston for appointments, including with a nephrologist due to his kidney trauma.

He remains an optimist. While he may not be able to define his leadership by play on the field, he is doing so with perspective. He generated small goals for himself like abandoning his wheelchair for crutches for Chelmsford’s Thanksgiving football game versus historic rival Billerica.

“I totally believe most kids would not be able to be here today but he is because of the way he is,” Kevin said. “He has always pushed himself to be better on his own. It’s amazing.”

Heading into the fall, Kyle had a strong outline for how his future may play out. He envisioned a good senior season followed by one last go around in lacrosse. Perhaps a collegiate career at Bentley University, where he could study business.

Now, however, those thoughts have changed.

It’s all due to the support he received along the way.

“I have completely switched and think I may want to be in the medical field. My medical team at Boston Children’s and everywhere I went — the relationships I built with them and how caring they were. It was just amazing. It makes me want to help other people,” Kyle said.

Kyle’s inner resilience built him into a starting quarterback. It now has him home for the holidays and that is an accomplishment far more rewarding than any on the field.

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