By Tom Quinn, Contributing Writer
Westborough – Alec Rastad really does not want to get sick during football season. This year the Westborough High Rangers started wiping down the locker room and equipment with alcohol wipes, which helps. The trips to the hospital for plasma infusions help, too, but those aren’t new – he has been getting those twice a month for his whole life.
Rastad, a senior, was born with a primary immunodeficiency disease – his body doesn’t manufacture the antibodies most people have to fight infections. This means the scrapes and cuts that are routine for football players can easily turn into serious problems, like the staph infection he recently came down with after skinning his knee. Even sitting in the locker room can be a risk.
“Our team is starting to get that fall sickness going through the locker room,” Head Coach Mark Ellis said. “Someone was sick next to him, and he was like ‘what do I do now?’ I said ‘get out of the locker room, I guess.’”
Ellis and team trainer Sarah Carver are attuned to Rastad’s condition. In addition to alcohol wipes, the team has a new mouthwash for their mouthpieces, and the coaching staff is stressing the importance of bringing uniforms home to do laundry. Although Rastad has been on the team since his freshman year, he didn’t tell anyone about his condition when he first joined, and the coaching staff only found out about it after he started missing weeks at a time.
“It just never came up until I started getting sick, and then I had to tell them why I was getting so sick,” Rastad said.
He has lost long stretches of his football career to sickness, including his entire junior season, but Rastad is making up for lost time this year. In addition to his original position, wide receiver, Rastad is now trying out defense (as a cornerback) and special teams (as a gunner on the punt team). Fans can pick him out on the field not just by his number 24 jersey, but also by the gear he wears to expose as little skin as possible.
“We bought a bunch of Under Armour stuff, so I’m pretty much covered from head to toe,” Rastad said.
Football is the only sport Rastad plays, but since it is traditionally the most violent high school sport, his parents were cautious about letting him join the team. Rastad secretly petitioned his doctor for permission before the whole family sat down to discuss the subject.
“I wrote a letter to my doctor saying why I think I should be able to play football,” he said. “And I went into the doctor’s office by myself and had the talk with him when I was in 8th grade without my parents there. He was hesitant, to say the least. But he ended up letting me play, and I think it worked out well.”
In his spare time Rastad, who estimates that he has had chicken pox five times, works with the Immune Deficiency Foundation (IDF) as a teen counselor.
This year, he’s working with his head coach to involve the entire team in the IDF’s Walk for Primary Immunodeficiency in Boston Sunday, Oct. 5. Ellis is planning on using the walk as a replacement for Westborough’s practice on that day, both as a break for his players and an educational tool to bring awareness to Rastad’s illness.
Primary immunodeficiency diseases are a group of more than 200 rare, chronic disorders in which part of the body’s immune system is missing or functions improperly. These diseases are caused by hereditary or genetic defects, and, although some disorders present at birth or in early childhood, the disorders can affect anyone, regardless of age or gender. Nearly a quarter-million Americans have been diagnosed with a primary immunodeficiency disease.
Rastad’s parents, Towma and Jason, and his sister Allissa – who also has a primary immunodeficiency disease – will also be walking Oct. 5. They invite family and friends to join them, be a “virtual” online walker, or make a donation at http://idf.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=2928.