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