By Ashley Hocking
Unable to catch her breath, senior Caitlin Broadwell struggled to hit, set and spike with her usual intensity as a feeling of numbness engulfed her.
Broadwell’s thyroid levels had skyrocketed during a club volleyball game in February 2011.
Broadwell was diagnosed with Graves’ disease a few hours later.
“Graves’ disease…causes the thyroid to over-produce the thyroid hormones,” Mike Broadwell, Caitlin’s father, said. “In an overactive state, it can wreak havoc on the body and in the most serious cases - called a thyroid storm – can cause heart damage and death.”
She was taken into the care of her primary doctor but was ultimately transferred to Children’s Mercy Hospital.
“We were in shock,” Mike Broadwell said. “We were unfamiliar with the disease and didn’t even know where the thyroid was.”
In Broadwell’s fragile state, she was advised to avoid physical activity for three months to reduce the risk of inducing a thyroid storm.
“It was really upsetting . . . It was during softball season too, and volleyball season,” Broadwell said. “So I was really stressed out and not doing any physical activity at all, so I went home and basically slept because that’s all I really felt like doing.”
For the next three years, Broadwell spent as much time off the court as she did on. Every three weeks she visited her doctor to see if she was healthy enough to play.
“She was not allowed to get her heart rate above a certain level, so she was very limited on activity,” varsity volleyball coach, Stephanie Magnuson, said. “She did a great job of becoming a student of the game while sidelined.”
After having her thyroid gland surgically removed in August, Broadwell no longer has to worry about producing excess hormones.
“I now have hypothyroidism,” Broadwell said. “It means you’re not producing enough [hormones], so you take medicine that gives you lots of hormones.”
While recovering from surgery, the entire varsity volleyball team visited Broadwell in her home bearing gifts to show their support.
“I went to the store and bought her like eight huge bags of candy and gave them to her,” sophomore and teammate Kyleigh Severa said. “I know she was happy to see us when we came and visited her at her house. It was surprising because she was still happy Caitlin, showing everyone her scar and wondering if we wanted to touch it.”
Broadwell will continue to visit her doctor on a regular basis and have blood tests conducted until her hormones have fully stabilized.
For the first few games of the season, Broadwell was still in recovery and unable to play for the beginning of the season. But her commitment, dedication and leadership to the team were not lost.
Broadwell was elected as one of the two co-captains of the volleyball team this season alongside senior Sami Buffalomeat.
“It’s great . . . having another great leader on the court,” Buffalomeat said.
With Broadwell’s health in check for the time being, she returned to the volleyball court on Sept. 11.
“She came back just as strong as she left,” Severa said.
Eight days into her reinstatement, the annual face off with Lawrence High’s cross-town rival took place. With a new-found vigor, Broadwell helped lead her team to a victory over Free State.
“Battling through something and beating Free State in return makes it a lot better,” Broadwell said. “I had to go up a tough road. It was very special.”
From the stands, Broadwell’s parents saw how far their daughter had come since her diagnosis three years prior.
“Given the pain we all went through when she had to basically be sedated for six months, just seeing her out there again was a feeling of being blessed,” Mike Broadwell said.
Broadwell’s positivity and work ethic throughout her health ordeal has been an inspiration to the members of the volleyball program.
“She is an extremely active young lady and to have that taken away from her was devastating,” Magnuson said. “Her poise through the entire process has been amazing. [I’m] not sure I would have been able to face it with the same positive attitude.”
Choosing to maintain optimism and enthusiasm like his daughter, Mike Broadwell, has watched his family grow closer and stronger.
“We have a shared understanding how good health can disappear in an instant,” Mike Broadwell said. “It puts life into perspective. We often would talk about the other children in Children’s Mercy that were not so lucky. Caitlin has been incredibly strong throughout this process and has been a good example for all of us.”
Following in her older sister Kelsey Broadwell’s footsteps, Broadwell plans to continue her eight year volleyball career at the university level next year. She has committed to the University of Nebraska Kearney.
“My sister plays at Fort Hays,” Broadwell said. “But, we’re in the same conference, so we’ll play each other.”
After being sidelined by Graves’ disease on-and-off for the past three years, Broadwell has grown to cherish every moment with her teammates and coaches.
“I’m a lot more thankful to be on the court and really not taking anything for granted,” Broadwell said. “I have a good volleyball team to back me up and a coach that really cares about me.”