Pushing Through To The Finish Line
Runner Keeps Going After Rare Medical Diagnosis
One in a million. Cyclic Neutropenia is a rare blood disorder occurring in about one of every one million people, and sophomore cross country runner Zach Sarnell was diagnosed with it at the beginning of the school year.
Cyclic Neutropenia causes health issues for Sarnell due to a lack of white blood cells, according to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus. He’s at risk of having episodes of neutropenia every few weeks that can last a few days. Cyclic neutropenia is a hereditary disease. He said his neutrophil levels are normal most of the time except during his episodes when he can experience abdominal pain and recurrent sinus and respiratory infections, making it hard to breathe and do everyday activities.
“The doctor said that I’ve probably had it for a few years,” Sarnell said. “But I’ll probably have it for around the next 15 years.”
According to the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus, an untreated person can get infections of the sinuses, respiratory tract and skin, which can be life threatening. Even though there is not a true cure, there are treatments so Sarnell can live his best life.
“I’m not on any kind of treatment for it because the only medication is a steroid that boosts my blood levels,” Sarnell said. “I only need it if I get really sick and have to have it.”
Neutrophils are white blood cells that play a role in inflammation and fighting infection. Doctors estimate that the average person has at least 2,500 neutrophils per microliter of blood. Someone with Cyclic Neutropenia like Sarnell only has roughly 200 neutrophils per microliter of blood during his episodes.
“Neutrophils are the first white blood cell to fight the sicknesses that I get, so I get sick more often because it’s harder for my body to fight diseases,” Sarnell said.
Even though Cyclic Neutropenia can be limiting for Sarnell at times, it does not slow him down. He is involved in multiple activities, like varsity cross country and track and field. The disorder does not affect him much during his running because his episodes happen every few weeks, but it could become difficult because breathing would be very hard and painful.
Sarnell also enjoyed math and engineering, which he planned to have a successful career in after school.