IT SEEMED so unremarkable at first, one thing solely a mom would discover.
As a substitute of operating to the sink like most center schoolers and washing his palms as quick as he might, 13-year-old Connor Odom would wash, rewash after which wash his palms once more. His mom, Lucia Odom, thought it was odd, however did not actually fear till, over time, she noticed his palms — crimson, chaffed and almost uncooked as much as his wrists.
Then, it was the showers. Ten minutes was 20. Twenty minutes was an hour. An hour turned three hours. Connor would not, could not, get out of the bathe regardless that the recent water would all the time run out.
“It was virtually like he had these glazed-over eyes, like he was current however not current,” Lucia remembered. “I knew it wasn’t regular.”
Lucia knew what it was wish to reside an unconventional life. The spouse of a collegiate basketball coach, she typically fought by way of the routine, day-to-day battles of household life on her personal, whereas her husband, Ryan Odom, fought to maintain his newest teaching place. After UNC-Charlotte’s head coach fell sick in the course of the season, Ryan immediately discovered himself thrust into the place of interim head coach. His job, and that of his complete employees, was on the road.
Confronted with that burden, Lucia determined to maintain her son’s struggles a secret from her husband. She would not inform him she was frightened that one thing was very flawed with their son.
FOR THE ODOMS, basketball is household, and the household is all about basketball.
Ryan’s father, Dave Odom, spent 25 years teaching within the ACC, together with a stint within the 1980s as an assistant coach on the College of Virginia. Ryan was a ball boy in these days and would sit behind the guests bench so he might take heed to North Carolina coach Dean Smith, Maryland’s Lefty Driesell and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski lead their groups. After Ryan graduated from Division III Hampden-Sydney School in 1996, the place his Three-point subject objective document nonetheless stands, he joined the household enterprise and began teaching.
Ryan moved each different season over the primary decade of his profession, taking assistant teaching jobs all alongside the East Coast. On the similar time, he and Lucia began a household. Connor arrived first, adopted by Owen two years later.
Because the boys grew up, it was not unusual to see them enjoying pickup video games within the household’s yard. For Connor, particularly, basketball was one thing he might all the time depend on — the calming rhythm of bouncing the ball and taking the shot as he practiced his Three-point shot.
By 2015, when Connor was 13, Lucia was having hassle getting him to high school as a result of he was scared of germs. He would not let anybody come into their home. He would not even let Lucia contact him.
“He did not like folks being near him, speaking to him, pondering he would get contaminated,” Lucia stated. “It morphed into germs that weren’t actual.”
Lucia had come to the laborious conclusion that her son had a critical psychological sickness.
“You recognize your little one and you recognize one thing is not proper and also you go to the physician and also you attempt to inform them this is not proper and so they do not hear you,” she stated. “It would be like somebody telling Ryan easy methods to coach a basketball crew after they’re not a basketball coach. Folks do not wish to be questioned when it is their occupation.”
After going solely Eight-11 on the finish of the 2015 season, Ryan and the complete UNC-Charlotte employees have been let go.
“Most likely the worst level in our life,” Lucia stated. “But it surely was a blessing as a result of that, in flip, introduced Ryan residence.”
Ryan knew Connor had been behaving oddly however did not admire the severity of the scenario.
“I’ve by no means had adversity like this,” Ryan stated. “To see your son struggling like he was and never be capable to have the experience or the power to assist — it was an enormous thriller.”
Connor stated his rational mind knew the germs weren’t actual and would not make him sick; however on the similar time, he would nonetheless really feel compelled to begin washing yet again if he did not wash them off in a sure approach.
“So, I simply stored giving in to the temptation to clean,” he stated. “And it made it worse.”
By means of audio and video recordings, Lucia documented how tough it was for Connor to cease washing his palms or get out of the bathe. In a single audio clip, they’ve an change as she tries to get him out of the bathe.
“I simply need to go to high school,” Connor stated.
Lucia replies: “Then we have to go.”
Connor whimpers: “I am unable to! It is like I am in jail. Like my thoughts is shackled and I haven’t got the important thing to get the shackles off!”
Connor stated he couldn’t assume clearly: “My thoughts was blurry.”
“It is like I am being tortured!” Connor cries in one other recording.
“I do not need to disappoint anybody,” Connor tells his mom when she urges him to get out of the bathe. “However I simply can’t!”
“You recognize your little one and you recognize one thing is not proper, and also you go to the physician and also you attempt to inform them this is not proper and so they do not hear you.”
Solely basketball might lure Connor outdoors.
“That was the one factor, satirically, Connor might do,” Ryan stated. “He could not go to high school, he could not do something, however he might play basketball. We might discuss him out of the bathe and get him out of there to go play basketball.”
However then got here Connor’s AAU event. “We have been at nationals,” Connor recalled. “I had a recreation and I used to be within the bathe for 3 hours.”
“He simply could not get out of the bathe,” Ryan stated. “We could not get him to the sport.”
Connor had mind scans; he met with psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. Nothing labored.
“It was the toughest factor I believe I’ve ever handled in my life, understanding I could not repair my son,” Lucia stated.
By that summer time of 2015, medical doctors identified Connor with extreme Obsessive-Compulsive Dysfunction (OCD), which causes somebody to repeat behaviors due to uncontrollable, reoccurring ideas. Connor was scared of germs. He could not cease fascinated by them.
“It is like a washer,” Ryan stated. “That is all they will take into consideration. It simply goes over and again and again. And what occurred with Connor is he started to develop rituals,” like washing his palms, “to take care of these ideas.”
Connor’s palms turned uncooked and irritated after weeks of overwashing, a direct results of his extreme OCD. Courtesy Odom Household
Not one of the medical doctors they met with might clarify why the OCD had set in or easy methods to cease it.
Determined to search out solutions, Lucia went to her native library to seek for books about OCD.
“‘Saving Sammy’ was the one ebook that they had, so I acquired it, went residence and browse it,” she stated. “Throughout the first 5 pages I simply stated, ‘Oh my gosh, that is what’s flawed with Connor!'”
Within the ebook, Sammy’s mom, Beth Alison Maloney, learns her son’s OCD was attributable to a beforehand undiagnosed strep an infection. The Odoms determined to have Connor examined for strep and his numbers have been by way of the roof, regardless that he did not have a sore throat or different traditional signs of strep.
Connor then was identified with Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Dysfunction Related to Streptococcus or what is often known as PANDAS. He started antibiotic remedy to kill the strep and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with Lucia for intensive OCD remedy at Rogers Behavioral Well being. Ryan moved right into a small condo in Hickory, North Carolina, after taking a job as head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne College, a small Division II college. Ryan’s dad and mom, Dave and Lynn, together with Lucia’s mom, moved in with 12-year-old Owen so he might keep at his college in Charlotte.
It was the toughest 12 months of their lives.
A brand new alternative
Basketball all the time has been on the coronary heart of the Odom household, from left, Connor, Lucia, Ryan and Owen. From ball boy to participant to educate, Ryan Odom acquired his large Division I teaching likelihood when he was employed by UMBC within the spring of 2016. Courtesy Odom Household
LOCATED IN THE SUBURBS of Catonsville, Maryland, the College of Maryland-Baltimore County wasn’t almost as large or well-known as its sister college 30 minutes down the highway. The College of Maryland Terrapins gained a nationwide championship in 2002, and so they usually rank throughout the prime 25. Compared, the UMBC Retrievers had just one NCAA event look (2008) and had since endured a shedding document each season.
When UMBC known as Ryan to take over its males’s basketball job within the spring of 2016, he advised his household he won’t get one other likelihood at a Division I head-coaching job once more.
“I did not know what UMBC was, like a variety of different folks did not,” Lucia stated. “I did not know what to assume. They are not identified for his or her basketball, however I’ve all the time had confidence in Ryan. He simply wanted an opportunity.”
So, simply months after the household lastly reunited in Charlotte, everybody packed up and moved to Maryland. Connor and Owen began at a brand new college, and so they constructed a small basketball court docket within the yard. Ryan rapidly turned his new crew round, serving to the Retrievers win 21 video games, three-times as a lot as their earlier season.
However simply as Ryan started his second season with UMBC, Connor’s points resurfaced in October 2017.
“The showers simply progressively went from 5 minutes to 10 minutes to 15 minutes,” Connor stated. “I used to be so embarrassed. I did not need to inform my dad and mom I used to be getting sick once more till, lastly, they might simply inform.”
His medical doctors have been perplexed. The strep was gone, so why had the OCD returned?
As Connor and Lucia headed again to Nashville for one more spherical of intensive remedy, Ryan made the choice to inform his gamers about his household’s troubles.
“I did not need to conceal that from them,” Ryan stated. “They should see their coach be torn up a little bit bit about what’s occurring. No totally different than I want to know that they are going to undergo some issues and I will have to assist them after they’re at their worst.”
The crew rallied behind its coach.
“We have been there for him,” UMBC guard Jairus Lyles stated. “The actual fact we have been good and we have been profitable video games, that form of took the stress off too.”
The Retrievers weren’t solely profitable. They went on to clinch the 2018 America East Convention championship. They have been headed to the NCAA event.
Historical past on the court docket, and solutions off of it
Final 12 months, UMBC turned the primary 16-seed to oust a No. 1 seed (Virginia) in males’s NCAA event historical past. John Joyner/NCAA Images by way of Getty Pictures
UMBC FORWARD GUARD Joe Sherburne vividly remembers Ryan’s locker room forward of the Retrievers’ first-round recreation in Charlotte on March 16, 2018. UMBC, the 16-seed, was about to face off towards the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, a crew many specialists predicted would win the entire event.
“He was speaking about what he had been by way of, why he needed us to win a lot,” Sherburne stated. “That he had been residing in Charlotte proper down the road [from the arena]. Out of a job. What he had been by way of along with his household.”
Ryan was about to face his favourite childhood crew in the identical city on the identical residence court docket he had been fired from on the very same day three years earlier.
“You could not write the script,” Ryan’s father stated of the matchup. “You could not write that as a film.”
And sitting within the stands was 16-year-old Connor, who had simply returned from two months of remedy. As Sherburne listened to his coach, he remembers pondering, “We actually needed to win for him. That was an enormous motivation for us.”
By halftime, the sport was tied at 21. However when the Retrievers returned to the court docket, they started firing off an unstoppable barrage of Three-point photographs. Virginia, famend for its vaunted protection, could not shut it down.
“We’re a crew that will get up and down and shoots 3s,” Sherburne stated. “If you’re a small crew who’s enjoying a No. 1 crew within the nation, you have acquired to have the ability to make 3s.”
UMBC went on to win 74-54, the primary time in event historical past 16-seed ousted a No. 1 seed.
However the Cinderella story lasted only one spherical, on and off the court docket. UMBC misplaced its subsequent recreation towards Kansas State, and Connor spiraled once more a number of days later.
The Odoms resumed their seek for a doctor who might clarify why the OCD stored returning and eventually discovered veteran neurologist Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, who suspected strep won’t be the one wrongdoer behind Connor’s situation and ordered extra in depth blood work.
“It is as for those who caught a psychological sickness,” Trifiletti stated. “Most youngsters react to infections like a strep throat by getting a fever and feeling sick. However a small proportion of children react otherwise and have a sudden behavioral change and develop these traits of OCD.”
Trifiletti added that PANDAS remains to be an rising prognosis and there may be debate throughout the medical neighborhood about its trigger and easy methods to deal with it. However Trifiletti believes any an infection that may spike a fever may cause PANDAS in a baby who’s vulnerable to it, which is why some medical doctors are actually beginning to consult with it merely as PANS, which is brief for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome.
“In Connor, certainly, we discovered plenty of issues happening, and we realized there have been a variety of infections to deal with,” Trifiletti stated.
One of many elements was Lyme illness, which the Odoms consider has been in Connor’s system since he was 18 months outdated.
“He awakened one morning and half his face wasn’t shifting,” Lucia stated. “We went to a specialist to attempt to work out what it was and so they stated Bell’s palsy. We handled him for 30 days with a steroid and it went away.”
Connor Odom at the moment performs basketball at Oak Hill Academy, a legendary hoops boarding college in southern Virginia the place former alums embody Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo. Courtesy Odom household
But it surely hadn’t, actually. His dad and mom consider the Lyme illness had been lurking in Connor’s bloodstream for greater than a decade, triggering his OCD together with the strep when he hit puberty.
“For this reason nothing labored,” Lucia stated. Trifiletti “found out the lacking piece.”
“Lastly, I’ve a solution,” Connor stated of his prognosis. “I do know that my worries are brought on, satirically, from germs, however no less than I do know that I am not loopy and worrying about nothing.”
Connor stated the laborious actuality of OCD is that after it units in, it may be very tough to manage. Though he rapidly began an aggressive routine of remedy and dietary supplements to struggle the Lyme illness, the Odoms simply assumed they have been headed to Nashville once more.
Besides, this time, “Connor fought it on his personal,” Ryan stated. “That is the primary time I’ve seen him do this. I used to be so pleased with him.”
For Ryan, main his UMBC crew to that historic upset a 12 months in the past was nothing in comparison with Connor’s battle with OCD.
“Unquestionably. What we did at UMBC is an upset for the ages — for now, till anyone else does it. There are all the time upsets,” Ryan stated. “If you see your little one overcome one thing this traumatic and this difficult, it takes a particular particular person to do this.”
After lacking two years of college, Connor is now taking accelerated lessons at Oak Hill Academy, a legendary basketball boarding college positioned within the mountains of southern Virginia the place former alums embody Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo.
A number of of Connor’s teammates are no less than a foot taller than him, together with his roommate, whose aspect of the room appears as completely raveled as one would count on from a 17-year-old. Connor’s aspect, nevertheless, is immaculate. Connor would possibly by no means shake the necessity to maintain all the things clear and arranged, Trifiletti stated; he might need future relapses. However the truth that Connor can now stroll into the boy’s locker room barefoot and decide by way of a mound of soiled laundry seeking his footwear, the physician stated, “is unbelievable.”
When requested if Connor is at Oak Hill coaching as much as be the following Coach Odom, his grandfather sported a understanding grin.
“There have been some actually darkish days, however there may be nice steadiness in life,” he replied. “And basketball was the Odom household’s anchor. It has stored us afloat.”
Reporter Tisha Thompson and producer Arty Berko work for ESPN’s Enterprise and Investigative models.