Caitlin McComish joined the University of Toledo soccer program in 2012 with a plan for success.
“Get healthy, get playing, get scholarship,” she said.
McComish first needed to undergo hip surgery. It would be the least of her medical worries.
McComish, a Whitehouse native and a Notre Dame Academy graduate, could barely breathe and went into anaphylactic shock while jogging last May. Her tongue swelled, her throat closed, and her career as a soccer player ended.
Her plight is spinning through national news cycles of late, getting picked up by a New York tabloid and a morning TV news show. All of this for a 20-year-old who never officially appeared in a college game.
“I have another voicemail, but I forget where they said they were from,” McComish cracked.
After dispelling speculation of a bad food reaction, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic diagnosed McComish with cholinergic urticaria, a type of hives triggered by increased body temperature or sweat. Stress induced by juggling academics and athletics might have aggravated the condition, though McComish’s doctors don’t know for sure.
Later, she was diagnosed with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. POTS is characterized by an abnormally large increase in heart rate while standing.
POTS causes McComish to experience brain fog and slurred speech to the point she says she couldn’t identify the heart in an anatomy exam.
“I feel like I’m outside of my head, outside of coherent thought,” said the nursing student.
McComish, a goalkeeper, stayed on the team through last fall but didn’t play in a game. She practiced with restrictions and often had to be treated by paramedics. The team’s medical staff forbid her from traveling with the team to away games, fearing McComish would suffer a flare up at an inopportune time.
“We treated it like heat exhaustion,” said Gretchen Buskirk, associate head athletic trainer at Toledo. “She had a cooling vest she wore before practice. Just different interventions we could use and we were able to control a good number of mild reactions.”
The hardest part of her condition, McComish says, “is being in limbo.” Some weeks her condition is ornery. Other times she goes several weeks without a trace. Over the winter, the university disqualified her from playing soccer over liability concerns. Not only is McComish not allowed to practice, she can’t attend practice to support her would-be teammates.
“I miss really weird things,” she said. “I miss turf burns. I miss ice baths. I miss the smell of my goalie gloves. Everyone has to say goodbye to soccer at some point, so I was gonna feel this one day eventually.”
To get her soccer fix, she coaches a youth team in Sylvania. To combat POTS, McComish takes a daily cocktail of pills, including Adderall, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. She receives monthly injections for cholinergic urticaria — her other condition — with the asthma drug Xolair.
Although McComish, a four-year letter winner at Notre Dame, never appeared in a college game, she contributed to her team’s success in other ways, her coach said.
“In any team environment someone with her perspective is extremely valuable,” Brad Evans said. “We enjoyed having her around all fall. As this continued to progress she wasn’t as visible and you miss someone like that.”