The son she always knew 'We had our son back after a week on the IV'
By Carlos Frias
http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/conte ... _0901.html
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 01, 2005
TALLAHASSEE - The fog surrounding Wyatt Sexton is lifting.
His mother, Joy, can see her son stepping out of the mist and into plain view a little more every day.
"I have the son that I know back," Joy Sexton said. "A little tired, but ..."
Her voice trembles. For a time, an illness she knew nothing about - Lyme disease - transformed her oldest son from a straight-A student and a promising junior quarterback at Florida State into a listless, unpredictable person who ended up in a hospital two months ago after a confrontation with police.
Today, Wyatt Sexton is recovering from the symptoms of the illness, even if his doctors say the disease itself may never go away.
He's going to class again, albeit part time. He's gaining weight, despite a strict diet. He's even back in team meetings with the other Florida State quarterbacks.
Although Sexton is not ready to talk about his progress, his mother said he is determined to return next season to compete for the starting quarterback job, a position he likely would have had for Monday night's season opener against Miami.
"He never stopped believing. That's his dream," Joy Sexton said Wednesday.
Fatigue is Wyatt Sexton's greatest enemy.
Even after a full night's sleep, Sexton has trouble getting out of bed. That's one of the disease's curses, a restless sleep that leaves the patient perpetually tired.
"He doesn't want to get out of bed, like most 20-year-olds," his mother joked.
Disease attacks in many ways
Most mornings, a nurse comes to the Sexton's home to check the dressing on his right arm, where a catheter that snakes into his chest delivers
antibiotics. On the days when the nurse doesn't come, Joy attaches her son's IV bag.
The antibiotics are used to subdue the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which is transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick. The Sextons are not sure where Wyatt might have been exposed to the tick.
The disease attacks and weakens the immune system. Before Sexton began his treatment, his mother said, his immune system was as weak as a cancer patient's.
Sexton already was having enough problems maintaining weight. Like his father, Billy, the assistant head coach and running backs coach at FSU, he's lanky and lean. Wyatt entered Tallahassee's Leon High School as a 5-foot-7, 130-pound freshman and he was 6-3, 190 as a senior. With the Seminoles, he struggled to stay at a playing weight of about 215 pounds, and he's trying now to stay above 200.
"There's a lot of strength to build back," Joy Sexton said.
Sexton has to be deliberate about meals. His disease mandates a strict diet low in sugar and starch, like a diabetes patient, Joy said, and he takes nutritional supplements. Since Wyatt's illness, the entire family has been more conscious of what they eat and have become "completely organic. Almost vegan," Joy said.
In the morning, Sexton usually studies for a while. He is taking six credits this semester, a big step since his specialist in Pennsylvania - he has three doctors in Tallahassee - initially said that load might be too much.
After all, Lyme disease affects the ability to concentrate. In its late stages, as Sexton learned, it can impair judgment the way alcohol or a narcotic might. "Brain fog," Joy called it.
Friends and FSU coaches said Sexton was acting strangely as early as April. He was cutting classes. He suddenly had failing grades. Teammates found him distracted at practice and in meetings.
Suspicious, his coaches told him to take a drug test, but Sexton didn't show up and he was suspended.
"His attention wasn't focused on football, wasn't focused on the things he needed to be doing," said running back Leon Washington, who has been a close friend of Sexton's since they played together in the Florida-Georgia high school all-star game in 2002 before arriving at FSU.
"That disease, it plays tricks with your mind."
Hospitalization, surprise diagnosis
During the late afternoon of June 13, police were called to a neighborhood where Sexton was doing push-ups in the street and later lying face down on the pavement. He resisted arrest, telling officers that he was "God.''
Police used pepper spray to control him before they took him to the hospital, according to the police report. He was committed under the Baker Act because he seemed to be a danger to himself or others, the officer wrote.
"I don't consider that him," coach Bobby Bowden said. "That was a reaction to the disease."
Washington had talked to Wyatt the weekend before the incident and found him agitated.
"He was talking about some crazy things - I won't tell you what he said," Washington said. "He was out of it."
His parents sat with him at the hospital, waiting for a diagnosis, with Sexton often asking why he was in the hospital. Speculation swirled, with some media outlets suggesting a substance-abuse problem or psychological condition.
"We didn't know whether he would ever come out of it," said Joy Sexton, whose husband declined interview requests for this story.
It would take a week of worrying and wondering before doctors told the Sextons their son had contracted Lyme disease.
Joy said she suggested the disease to doctors after two Tallahassee residents contacted her and told her their children had Lyme and had exhibited similar behavior. A test confirmed it immediately and Sexton was started on an IV medication.
"We had our son back after a week on the IV," Joy said.
Friends there in Sextons' difficult time
Sexton has progressed so well that after class he attends the regular quarterback meetings. He often pops by practice or the locker room to joke with his teammates.
"Same ol' fun-loving Wyatt," safety Pat Watkins said.
Sexton has to nap when he gets home, giving him more energy for two activities he enjoys, playing the piano and guitar.
His parents also have found solace, and not just in seeing their son progress so quickly. The Sextons have had support from their church and Joy meets regularly with the Tallahassee branch of a Lyme disease support group, which has about 400 members, she said.
The Sextons are a longtime family in the state capital - players from three generations were quarterbacks at Leon - so they've also had plenty of community support, especially during the drug-abuse rumors.
"The local community understands who the Sextons are and what they stand for," said Leon High principal Rocky Hanna, a 1982 Leon graduate whose family has attended the school for four generations. "To others, they want the 'other side.' To us, there's the Sextons' side and that's the end of it."
Wyatt finds comfort in his dream of one day returning to play at Doak Campbell Stadium. Joy Sexton is happy just to see the life back in her son's eyes.
"If he doesn't improve anymore, that's OK," she said. "His mind is back."
Copyright © 2005, The Palm Beach Post.