Caitlin Broadwell had just finished playing her first volleyball match of a weekend tournament with her club team, Topeka Impact, this past February in Kansas City, Mo.
Typically, such interludes between games are carefree. Check your phone, grab a snack, talk with some friends — do anything to kill some time before returning to the court.
Broadwell couldn’t relax, though, as an unsettling cloud surrounded her.
She felt numb. She couldn’t catch her breath. And this wasn’t an issue of being out of shape.
“Something’s wrong,” the usually poised and dynamic Lawrence High player thought to herself.
Broadwell had a good idea about what ailed her. As a freshman, doctors diagnosed her with an overactive thyroid and Graves’ disease. Her thyroid levels had been unstable in the days before the tournament, and her father, Mike, planned on checking her heart rate in between matches. When they did, they discovered her heart “was going crazy,” pumping too fast. They immediately called her doctor.
That discussion brought some bad news: Broadwell had to stop playing. For the time being, that meant no volleyball for the rest of the tournament. But it soon evolved into no sports-related activities for weeks, then months.
Given Broadwell’s condition, she couldn’t afford to keep competing in volleyball and track, because of the fear her heart rate might skyrocket and ignite what is called a thyroid storm. Such a crisis requires emergency medical attention and in the worst cases can lead to coma, heart failure or death, according to the Mayo Clinic website.
Somewhat out of necessity, in some measure out of loyalty to her club teammates, Broadwell didn’t leave the tournament that day her thyroid went haywire. In fact, because the Impact only had six players in uniform that day, she stayed on the floor during games. Odd as it seemed to her and passers-by, Broadwell became an on-court spectator, watching as her five teammates played around her.
“It was really hard,” the LHS senior recalled. “All of these college coaches were walking by and probably like, ‘What is this girl doing?’”
The flare-up during her junior year, it turned out, stemmed from the stress she felt at the time. It all seemed so strange to Broadwell, because she had gone two years without her thyroid impacting her routine.
Her parents, Mike and Terri, first had her checked out as a freshman. They had no clue why she felt so out of whack. Broadwell often felt shaky, couldn’t focus and had insomnia, among other troubling symptoms.
“I ate like a horse,” she added, “and I just lost so much weight. And I was really moody, and my parents did not like that.”
Some blood work led to the Graves’ disease diagnosis, and suddenly everything made sense.
Medication had kept Broadwell healthy and active until this past February. She and her parents agreed they wanted to seek out another way to end her thyroid troubles. She underwent radiation in May, but later learned it hadn’t worked.
Finally, on Aug. 29, Broadwell had a thyroidectomy to remove the gland. The surgery was a success. Broadwell returned to practice Monday, and hopes to make her season debut for LHS Thursday at an Olathe South quadrangular.
The only side effect of the procedure seems to be people staring at the bandage that covers the scar near the base of her neck.
“I tell them different stories, like I got bit by a shark. It makes it more fun to talk about,” Broadwell said, with a laugh.
Other than that, the only major change for Broadwell has been eating healthier. The chocolates, sweets and unhealthy processed foods she loved are gone. And now her dad makes her a daily vegetable-and-fruit-juice concoction, with ingredients such as kale, spinach and carrots, plus oranges and grapes to “cover up the nasty.”
Does that glass of brown cocktail look good before she downs it? No. But she feels great after the fact.
Through her nearly seven months of inactivity, and waiting to get back on the court, Broadwell inspired the Lions, who missed her energy and heart, LHS volleyball coach Stephanie Magnuson said.
“I have so much respect for how she has handled it,” Magnuson said, “and how she has maintained a positive attitude throughout the whole thing. And her family support is incredible.”
Sophomore Caroline Dykes said the Lions missed Broadwell, and anticipate being more competitive now that she is back, although she never really left their sides.
“This summer she would come and do as much as she could to get her hands on the ball,” Dykes said, “and she’s always there supporting us.”
Rapidly approaching the end of her four-year varsity career for LHS, Broadwell has orally committed to play for the University of Nebraska-Kearney, and is eager to help Lawrence try to reach the state tournament.
If all goes to plan, the rest of her volleyball life starts Thursday.
“I know I won’t be at 100 percent, at all,” Broadwell said of her initial return, “but hopefully I’ll be able to play just a little bit.”