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Nov 19, 2009 8:05 PM by Andy Koen

"I didn't know if I would walk again"

Standing on the field at Sand Creek High School, Nathan Pittman recalls the dreams he had as freshmen joining the football team here six years ago.

"Just to be an amazing football player," Pittman said. "Go to like 5 Super Bowls, get 5 Super Bowl rings."

But those dreams quickly ended.  While conditioning on the first day of practice, Nathan suddenly collapsed.

"They were going to amputate my legs, they didn't know if I was going to live."

His kidney's had failed, and he nearly died.  No one knew at the time that Nathan had the sickle cell trait, a condition that affects as many as one in 500 African Americans. A lack of fluids in sickle cell patients can lead to rhabdomyolysis, a potentially lethal reaction by the body's muscles.  The intense training of that day is thought to have brought on Nathan's attack.

"For a long time I blamed myself," said Al Pittman, Nathan's father.  "I was standing there next to a stack of bottled water, I could've grabbed one and said son, you need to hydrate, but I was staying out of the way, you know, letting the coaches run the team."

Over the next month, Nathan underwent a series of 8 surgeries. His doctors we unsure that he's regain the use of his legs.

"Little things, it was the little things that I couldn't do anymore," Nathan said.  "I couldn't walk, I couldn't sit up in bed, ... I couldn't sit in a chair, could barely walk, barely move."

His family stayed at his side through all of the operations and years of physical therapy, giving him the support to push through    But Nathan had a personal spiritual battle to overcome as well.

"I felt like at that very point, I was very far and that the lord had rejected me, but as I continued to improve, as I continued to exercise, and continued to trust in him, he brought me through all of that."

One day in the hospital, much to the surprise of his family and doctors, Nathan pulled himself out of his bed and into a wheelchair.  It was a turning point in his recovery.

"I didn't want to sit there," he said.  "I didn't want to just stay there and live the rest of my life in a bed. I was going to beat this."

Today, Nathan is a strong and healthy 21 year old with a new purpose in life, ministering to young people at his father's church.

"As I continued to press on and as the Lord continued to just help me, he taught me that what I'm going to do for him is going to last a lot longer that that Super Bowl trophy."

He and his family want his story to be both an inspiration and a warning about the dangers of sickle cell and about the importance of proper hydration in high school sports.

"The Bible says the little foxes destroy the vineyard," the elder Pittman said. "It's the small things sometimes that we fail to give attention to that can cause the greatest harm."

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