Sophomore inspires team by playing through severe liver disease

Westfield (Mass.) High football player Carl King has a serious disease, but he doesn't want to be a victim. In fact, all he wants is to be another one of the guys on the Westfield football team, even though doctors tell the 15-year-old that he should be jaundiced, suffering from severe fatigue and experiencing intense itchiness of his skin.

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As reported by, those side effects all come from King's sclerosing cholangitis, a liver disease that has only one known cure: a liver transplant. King is on a waiting list for that procedure, but while he continues to wait, the sophomore has refused to curb the things that he really loves, most significantly his participation in high school sports.

“I have to try to be optimistic,” King told MassLive's Ben Larsen. “It can get to me at times but all I can do is try and go with the flow.

“If I’m not optimistic, I won’t be happy.”

The teenager's happiness tends to be highest when King is at Westfield football practices and games. King's doctors at Boston Children's Hospital cleared the teen to continue playing high school football so long as he wore a special pad designed to protect his liver.

The sophomore's parents were apprehensive about his participation at first, but came around to the idea thanks to King's persistence and the realization that only playing sports would ensure he would continue to live life as he always had.

“As a mother, of course I’d be happier if he wasn’t playing sports right now,” Karen King told MassLive. “But as Carl’s mother, I also know that’s not him. It’s easier for me for him to be in a plastic bubble but sports are his passion and you can’t take that away. If you take away his passion, it would take away his strength.”

In fact, Carl King's insistence on living life as if nothing is wrong even inspires his mother to overlook the difficult cards that her family has been dealt.

“There are days I wake up hoping that the nightmare is over and I feel like I can’t go another day,” Karen King told MassLive. “But I look at Carl and he wakes up for school goes to practice and works so hard. How dare I not want to do this when he does so much.”

Unfortunately, the King's family travel schedule to Boston for Carl's treatments can keep the teen from football practice, and other days, particularly those in which he has blood drawn and undergoes a variety of other tests, King can be far too fatigued to participate in after-school workouts.

Still, that hasn't made King -- who also swam and ran track last spring -- any less important to the Westfield team's fabric. In fact, his coaches insist he's only made the team stronger as a whole, simply by being a part of it.

“To see what Carl goes through just to practice every day just shows what type of character he has,” Westfield coach Bill Moore told MassLive. “Carl is so inspiring for us. He's a great example and he inspires me every single day.”

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