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Promising Jesuit swimmer seeks to overcome rare disorder

Armando Destrade is back in the pool after an almost year-long bout with sudden fainting spells and fatigue.
Jesuit freshman Armando Destrade is coming back to swimming after a nine-month battle with POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), which caused Destrade to suddenly faint. He missed so much school because of the condition that he was forced to repeat his freshman year. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
Jesuit freshman Armando Destrade is coming back to swimming after a nine-month battle with POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome), which caused Destrade to suddenly faint. He missed so much school because of the condition that he was forced to repeat his freshman year. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]
Published Sep. 11, 2019

TAMPA — There was a time last winter when Armando Destrade, age 14, would sneeze, or cough, or laugh ... then faint.

Out cold.

His mother, Drisana Destrade, would shake him awake. “Like shaking him out of a coma.”

During one stretch of time, Armando would faint at least once an hour.

All day.

“I was scared to death,” Drisana said. “I was helpless. I couldn’t sleep. I cried. I worried. I worried so much.”

They went to doctor after doctor because Armando’s headache never left him, because he was sleeping up to 16 hours a day, because his memory was alluding him, because he wouldn’t stop fainting.

“I was afraid I would faint and fall and crack my head open on the sidewalk,” said Armando on Monday, sitting next to the pool where he was about to begin practice for Jesuit. “I still worry about it.”

Armando Destrade no longer has the stamina for the 500 freestyle, but he is focusing on shorter distances. [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

But not nearly as much as last October when he started feeling extreme fatigue before the district meet,just "really sluggish and weird.” He didn’t perform anywhere near his potential, which was tremendous in the 500-yard freestyle as a freshman.

Within a week, the fatigue doubled down and the dizziness kicked in hard. He didn’t swim in the region meet because he was home fighting off fainting spells.

Doctors diagnosed him with mononucleosis, which took him away from school.

Things got a lot worse: the headaches, dizziness, fainting, memory lapses, sleeping all night and day.

“I couldn’t do simple math,” he said. “I wondered what is happening to my body and my mind? I wondered is this going to be with me forever.”

RELATED: Plant, Jesuit swimmers prevail in City Relays

Doctors next diagnosed him with POTS (postural orthostatic tachycarda syndrome, a condition that affects blood flow: involving the automatic nervous system, which automatically controls and regulates vital bodily functions.

It is a rare disorder, but does occur sometimes in people who recently had mononucleosis.

Doctors said there was no medicine to solve Armando’s malady.

Time would have to take care of it.

Time stretched and stretched and stretched.

The fainting and so on continued, and Armando was pulled from school.

“He loves school, but he simply couldn’t make it through the day,” Drisana said.

RELATED: They’ve got spirit, yes they do, and a swim title or two

Swimming — which before his illness he had practiced about four hours a day (two hours in the morning before school started) — was out of the question.

January, February, March, April, May, June …

Finally, in July, he started feeling better. Not perfect, but better.

Good enough to get back in the pool, which, as it turns out, appears to have been the best medicine.

“If he didn’t overdue it, being in the water made him feel better, made him happy,” Drisana said. “He actually smiled.”

He swam more and more. Not the two hours in the morning and not any dry land workouts. But at least the two hours in the afternoon.

Last weekend he competed in the City Relays at Bobby Hicks Pool, not as fast as he was, but pretty darned fast.

Armando Destrade is just happy getting back to a more normal routine and having a chance to "do the things I love." [SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times]

Is he in the clear? No.

“Sometimes he still gets dizzy and we worry,” Drisana said. “But he is making a comeback. He’s not there, but hopefully he will get there.”

He did have to repeat his freshman year at Jesuit, because he missed it in “a brain fog” of headaches and passing out and fatigue.

One of the upsides, Armando said, is that he is so appreciative of "everything.”

“I love coming to practice and getting in the water and being with my friends and working hard, far more than I ever did before,” Armando said. “I always loved school and swimming, but now I really love every second of it so much.

“I’m so happy that I can do the things I love.”

Can he get back to the form that would have made him a state meet qualifier last year?


But it won’t be in the 500-yard freestyle. It’s too long and taxing at this point.

But maybe in the 100 or 200.

Maybe is finally possible.


  1. There were many standout players for Tampa Catholic on Saturday, including goalkeeper Charlie Gembarowski, who set school records in shutouts (16) and wins (22) with the state semifinal victory.
  2. Jesuit, ranked No. 6 in the state and 15th nationally by MaxPreps, will play for their seventh school title next Saturday in DeLand against Pembroke Pines Charter.
  3. Shorecrest coach Jason Montoya, seen here in a previous playoff match, was happy with how his team played in Saturday's state semifinal.
  4. Elaine Jeffers, left, and mom Jennifer are all smiles in their pirate and parrot costumes after finishing the 15K and 5K races Saturday morning. Today, both Elaine, 33, and Jennifer, 60, will run their 61st half-marathon.
  5. Joe Conrad, at the mere age of 90 in the orange hat, crosses the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K finish line with 30 of his relatives: kids, grandkids and so on. Conrad, who has set several age-group records at races the past few decades, finished in 59 minutes, 28 seconds, but he did, of course, benefit from all the pacers around him.
  6. Cambridge Christian runner Reed Legg finishes first (15:29) during Saturday's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K.
  7. Tampa Bay Tech, still missing star sophomore Janiah Barker, falters in the region final Friday, but if healthy should make another deep playoff run next season.
  8. After its 3-1 victory over Westminster Academy of Fort Lauderdale on Friday, the Shorecrest girls soccer team  will be playing in the program's first state final next week in Deland.
  9. Land O' Lakes may have fallen one game short of a state final, but, as coach Jen Craven says: “We have some good kids coming from the local middle school. Looking forward, I don’t see any reason why you won’t see us in the show next year."
  10. Carrollwood Day's Weeyah McGill, seen here during last year's state tournament, was dominant Friday against Seffner Christian.
  11. Plant senior Honor Culpepper, seen here earlier this season, scores a game-high 20 points in Friday's Class 7A region final victory.
  12. Coach Karrmayne King hugs Keswick Christian player Marissa McCauley after the Crusaders soundly defeat Hernando Christian to advance to state.