Photo: Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media
STAMFORD — Peter Leandre was going through pre-season drills with the freshmen football team at Westhill when he began to feel dizzy and weak.
He knew his body needed a break, but fearing he would look soft to his coaches and teammates, Leandre kept going. Pushing through the agony like all football players are taught to do.
He said nothing to his coaches, gutting through the grueling practice, but just barely.
Later that night he went into the hospital and did not leave for nearly two weeks with severe dehydration.
He was lucky he didn’t suffer heat stroke and die on the field.
WHAT IS SICKLE CELL DISEASE?
According to the CDC, sickle cell disease is a group of inherited red blood cell disorders where the red blood cells become hard, sticky and C-shaped, resembling the farm tool a sickle. 1-in-10 African Americans and 1-in-100 Hispanic Americans have the sickle cell trait. Many people carry the sickle-cell trait, but only some develop the disease. In the United States, approximately 2 million people have sickle cell trait while around 100,000 people have sickle cell disease.
What Leandre had not told the coaches at Westhill was that he has sickle cell disease, and the heat of the workout, combined with his lack of hydration and physical stamina had caused a flare-up.
Now a senior, in better shape and being closely monitored by his coaches, Leandre has not had another flare-up though the danger is always present, quietly lurking under the surface.
Sickle cell disease is known as a silent killer because symptoms resemble general fatigue except an athlete with the disease can deteriorate quickly.
People with the disease are more likely to suffer dehydration and fatigue when participating in sports and playing in heat or at altitude can make the symptoms worsen rapidly.
If an athlete suffers a flare-up of the disease, their red blood cells start trying to kill them. The crescent-shaped cells clog the blood stream to the muscles and the muscles begin to fail. This can lead to cardiac arrest if not treated immediately.
It can kill otherwise healthy young athlete in minutes.
Leandre, the Vikings starting center the past two seasons, was not properly hydrated that day and by his own admission, out of shape for football when he began freshman year.
His coaches had no idea he was not well and kept driving him like the rest of the players.
“The coaches didn’t know at first, but they were noticing that I was struggling even after conditioning week was over,” Leandre said. “Freshman year I was getting dizzy and felt like I was going to pass out. But I never told the coaches at the time. It was when I went to the hospital that my doctors emailed the coaches and that’s when they approached me.”
Leandre has taken his hydration and conditioning seriously since then, getting in better physical shape every season, and has had no further problems. Not to say a flare-up cannot come.
Doctors told Leandre the risks of playing with the disease, but agreed to give him a waiver to play if he passed a physical exam prior to every season.
Now, Leandre visits Yale-New Haven every August hoping he is well enough to play another season, going through a battery of tests.
“First, they send me to an eye doctor to see if I have signs of sickle cell in there. Then they check my blood and make me pee in a cup to see if it has traveled anywhere in my body,” Leandre said. “The doctors said I shouldn’t play, but I could play. They told me I had to hydrate very well. I also have to bring my inhaler every game because I have asthma too. When the weather is hot like this it affects me more and I get tired easily. I have to hydrate more, but they do a good job keeping an eye on me.”
Because of his determination to play, Leandre has been nominated for the Week 4 USA Football/Heart of a Giant Award.
People can vote online to help Leandre win the award at www.usafootball.com/
The top vote-getter each week will be one of the six finalists for the award, sponsored by USA Football, the New York Giants and the Hospital for Special Surgery.
USA Football’s Heart of a Giant award program recognizes high school football players from the Tri-State area who “demonstrate unparalleled work ethic and a passion for the game” according to its website.
Leandre has certainly shown those qualities as he plays in his senior season at Westhill.
He has been told not to play by doctors, but his passion for the game runs deep.
It was instilled in him by his brother Will Dorvilier, who played at Trinity Catholic graduating in 2016 and is now playing for Western Connecticut State University as a linebacker.
“My older brother was playing and I just love the game,” Leandre said. “I watched him play every week and got inspired to play by him. I feel so good on the field, I forget I have the disease sometimes because I just love being out there so much.”
Leandre’s mother, Jamose Dorvilier, said she would never dream of keeping Peter from his passion.
“I’m not worried about him playing football, at all,” Dorvilier said. “This is his life, this is his love. The doctor said he could play as long as he drinks enough and does not get too hot, so, he can play. Football is his life. He loves it so much.”
Dorvilier said Leandre was on medication the first 13 years of his life to help manage the disease, but no longer needs it and has been doing fine since the flare-up freshman year.
The coaching staff at Westhill is doing their part keeping Leandre healthy as well.
The 5-foot-11, 280-pound Leandre only plays center on offense, not going both ways even though he is talented enough to play on the defensive side of the ball.
They also closely monitor him, especially on hot days at practice.
“When we are out practicing in the heat and humidity we have to watch his hydration levels and monitor his stamina,” Westhill coach Frank Marcucio said. “He is a quiet kid and he doesn’t say very much and never complains. He’s a very hardworking kid. I have a thing with him now where I can kind of tell and we tell the other coaches to take it easy on him when he’s last in wind sprints and stuff like that.”
As a junior, Leandre was a FCIAC All-East selection and is back this year anchoring an all-senior offensive line.
Leandre is a well-balanced, smart player who is equally good at run and pass blocking in the Vikings’ pistol offense.
Most importantly, he is getting to play the sport he loves.