IT SEEMED so unremarkable at first, one thing solely a mom would discover.
As a substitute of operating to the sink like most center schoolers and washing his arms as quick as he may, 13-year-old Connor Odom would wash, rewash after which wash his arms once more. His mom, Lucia Odom, thought it was odd, however did not actually fear till, over time, she noticed his arms — purple, chaffed and almost uncooked as much as his wrists.
Then, it was the showers. Ten minutes became 20. Twenty minutes became an hour. An hour turned three hours. Connor would not, could not, get out of the bathe although the new water would at all times run out.
“It was nearly like he had these glazed-over eyes, like he was current however not current,” Lucia remembered. “I knew it wasn’t regular.”
Lucia knew what it was prefer to dwell an unconventional life. The spouse of a collegiate basketball coach, she usually fought by way of the routine, day-to-day battles of household life on her personal, whereas her husband, Ryan Odom, fought to maintain his newest teaching place. After UNC-Charlotte’s head coach fell ailing in the midst of the season, Ryan immediately discovered himself thrust into the place of interim head coach. His job, and that of his complete workers, was on the road.
Confronted with that burden, Lucia determined to maintain her son’s struggles a secret from her husband. She would not inform him she was anxious that one thing was very improper with their son.
FOR THE ODOMS, basketball is household, and the household is all about basketball.
Ryan’s father, Dave Odom, spent 25 years teaching within the ACC, together with a stint within the 1980s as an assistant coach on the College of Virginia. Ryan was a ball boy in these days and would sit behind the guests bench so he may take heed to North Carolina coach Dean Smith, Maryland’s Lefty Driesell and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski lead their groups. After Ryan graduated from Division III Hampden-Sydney Faculty in 1996, the place his Three-point discipline objective document nonetheless stands, he joined the household enterprise and began teaching.
Ryan moved each different season over the primary decade of his profession, taking assistant teaching jobs all alongside the East Coast. On the identical time, he and Lucia began a household. Connor arrived first, adopted by Owen two years later.
Because the boys grew up, it was not unusual to see them taking part in pickup video games within the household’s yard. For Connor, particularly, basketball was one thing he may at all times rely on — the calming rhythm of bouncing the ball and taking the shot as he practiced his Three-point shot.
By 2015, when Connor was 13, Lucia was having hassle getting him to highschool as a result of he was fearful of germs. He would not let anybody come into their home. He would not even let Lucia contact him.
“He did not like individuals being near him, speaking to him, pondering he would get contaminated,” Lucia mentioned. “It morphed into germs that weren’t actual.”
Lucia had come to the arduous conclusion that her son had a severe psychological sickness.
“You realize your youngster and you understand one thing is not proper and also you go to the physician and also you attempt to inform them this is not proper and so they do not hear you,” she mentioned. “It would be like somebody telling Ryan how one can coach a basketball group once they’re not a basketball coach. Individuals do not prefer to be questioned when it is their career.”
After going solely Eight-11 on the finish of the 2015 season, Ryan and your entire UNC-Charlotte workers have been let go.
“Most likely the worst level in our life,” Lucia mentioned. “But it surely became a blessing as a result of that, in flip, introduced Ryan residence.”
Ryan knew Connor had been behaving oddly however did not admire the severity of the state of affairs.
“I’ve by no means had adversity like this,” Ryan mentioned. “To see your son struggling like he was and never be capable of have the experience or the flexibility to assist — it was a giant thriller.”
Connor mentioned his rational mind knew the germs weren’t actual and would not make him sick; however on the identical time, he would nonetheless really feel compelled to begin washing yet again if he did not wash them off in a sure manner.
“So, I simply stored giving in to the temptation to clean,” he mentioned. “And it made it worse.”
By means of audio and video recordings, Lucia documented how tough it was for Connor to cease washing his arms or get out of the bathe. In a single audio clip, they’ve an change as she tries to get him out of the bathe.
“I simply wish to go to highschool,” Connor mentioned.
Lucia replies: “Then we have to go.”
Connor whimpers: “I can not! It is like I am in jail. Like my thoughts is shackled and I haven’t got the important thing to get the shackles off!”
Connor mentioned he couldn’t assume clearly: “My thoughts was blurry.”
“It is like I am being tortured!” Connor cries in one other recording.
“I do not wish to disappoint anybody,” Connor tells his mom when she urges him to get out of the bathe. “However I simply cannot!”
“You realize your youngster and you understand one thing is not proper, and also you go to the physician and also you attempt to inform them this is not proper and so they do not hear you.”
Solely basketball may lure Connor outdoors.
“That was the one factor, satirically, Connor may do,” Ryan mentioned. “He could not go to highschool, he could not do something, however he may play basketball. We may discuss him out of the bathe and get him out of there to go play basketball.”
However then got here Connor’s AAU match. “We have been at nationals,” Connor recalled. “I had a recreation and I used to be within the bathe for 3 hours.”
“He simply could not get out of the bathe,” Ryan mentioned. “We could not get him to the sport.”
Connor had mind scans; he met with psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. Nothing labored.
“It was the toughest factor I feel I’ve ever handled in my life, understanding I could not repair my son,” Lucia mentioned.
By that summer season of 2015, docs recognized Connor with extreme Obsessive-Compulsive Dysfunction (OCD), which causes somebody to repeat behaviors due to uncontrollable, reoccurring ideas. Connor was fearful of germs. He could not cease fascinated about them.
“It is like a washer,” Ryan mentioned. “That is all they’ll take into consideration. It simply goes over and time and again. And what occurred with Connor is he started to develop rituals,” like washing his arms, “to take care of these ideas.”
Connor’s arms turned uncooked and irritated after weeks of overwashing, a direct results of his extreme OCD. Courtesy Odom Household
Not one of the docs they met with may clarify why the OCD had set in or how one can cease it.
Determined to search out solutions, Lucia went to her native library to seek for books about OCD.
“‘Saving Sammy’ was the one guide they’d, so I bought it, went residence and browse it,” she mentioned. “Throughout the first 5 pages I simply mentioned, ‘Oh my gosh, that is what’s improper with Connor!'”
Within the guide, Sammy’s mom, Beth Alison Maloney, learns her son’s OCD was brought on by a beforehand undiagnosed strep an infection. The Odoms determined to have Connor examined for strep and his numbers have been by way of the roof, although he did not have a sore throat or different basic signs of strep.
Connor then was recognized with Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Dysfunction Related to Streptococcus or what is often known as PANDAS. He started antibiotic remedy to kill the strep and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, with Lucia for intensive OCD remedy at Rogers Behavioral Well being. Ryan moved right into a small residence in Hickory, North Carolina, after taking a job as head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne College, a small Division II college. Ryan’s mother and father, Dave and Lynn, together with Lucia’s mom, moved in with 12-year-old Owen so he may keep at his college in Charlotte.
It was the toughest 12 months of their lives.
A brand new alternative
Basketball at all times has been on the coronary heart of the Odom household, from left, Connor, Lucia, Ryan and Owen. From ball boy to participant to teach, Ryan Odom bought his large Division I teaching probability when he was employed by UMBC within the spring of 2016. Courtesy Odom Household
LOCATED IN THE SUBURBS of Catonsville, Maryland, the College of Maryland-Baltimore County wasn’t almost as large or well-known as its sister college 30 minutes down the street. The College of Maryland Terrapins received a nationwide championship in 2002, and so they usually rank inside the high 25. Compared, the UMBC Retrievers had just one NCAA match look (2008) and had since endured a dropping document each season.
When UMBC referred to as Ryan to take over its males’s basketball job within the spring of 2016, he instructed his household he may not get one other probability at a Division I head-coaching job once more.
“I did not know what UMBC was, like loads of different individuals did not,” Lucia mentioned. “I did not know what to assume. They are not recognized for his or her basketball, however I’ve at all times had confidence in Ryan. He simply wanted an opportunity.”
So, simply months after the household lastly reunited in Charlotte, everybody packed up and moved to Maryland. Connor and Owen began at a brand new college, and so they constructed a small basketball court docket within the yard. Ryan shortly turned his new group round, serving to the Retrievers win 21 video games, three-times as a lot as their earlier season.
However simply as Ryan started his second season with UMBC, Connor’s points resurfaced in October 2017.
“The showers simply progressively went from 5 minutes to 10 minutes to 15 minutes,” Connor mentioned. “I used to be so embarrassed. I did not wish to inform my mother and father I used to be getting sick once more till, lastly, they may simply inform.”
His docs have been perplexed. The strep was gone, so why had the OCD returned?
As Connor and Lucia headed again to Nashville for an additional spherical of intensive remedy, Ryan made the choice to inform his gamers about his household’s troubles.
“I did not wish to disguise that from them,” Ryan mentioned. “They should see their coach be torn up a bit bit about what’s taking place. No completely different than I would like to know that they will undergo some issues and I’ll have to assist them once they’re at their worst.”
The group rallied behind its coach.
“We have been there for him,” UMBC guard Jairus Lyles mentioned. “The very fact we have been good and we have been profitable video games, that sort of took the stress off too.”
The Retrievers weren’t solely profitable. They went on to clinch the 2018 America East Convention championship. They have been headed to the NCAA match.
Historical past on the court docket, and solutions off of it
Final 12 months, UMBC turned the primary 16-seed to oust a No. 1 seed (Virginia) in males’s NCAA match historical past. John Joyner/NCAA Images through Getty Photos
UMBC FORWARD GUARD Joe Sherburne vividly remembers Ryan’s locker room forward of the Retrievers’ first-round recreation in Charlotte on March 16, 2018. UMBC, the 16-seed, was about to face off in opposition to the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers, a group many consultants predicted would win the entire match.
“He was speaking about what he had been by way of, why he wished us to win a lot,” Sherburne mentioned. “That he had been dwelling in Charlotte proper down the road [from the arena]. Out of a job. What he had been by way of along with his household.”
Ryan was about to face his favourite childhood group in the identical city on the identical residence court docket he had been fired from on the very same day three years earlier.
“You could not write the script,” Ryan’s father mentioned of the matchup. “You could not write that as a film.”
And sitting within the stands was 16-year-old Connor, who had simply returned from two months of remedy. As Sherburne listened to his coach, he remembers pondering, “We actually wished to win for him. That was a giant motivation for us.”
By halftime, the sport was tied at 21. However when the Retrievers returned to the court docket, they started firing off an unstoppable barrage of Three-point pictures. Virginia, famend for its vaunted protection, could not shut it down.
“We’re a group that will get up and down and shoots 3s,” Sherburne mentioned. “Once you’re a small group who’s taking part in a No. 1 group within the nation, you’ve got bought to have the ability to make 3s.”
UMBC went on to win 74-54, the primary time in match historical past that a 16-seed ousted a No. 1 seed.
However the Cinderella story lasted only one spherical, on and off the court docket. UMBC misplaced its subsequent recreation in opposition to Kansas State, and Connor spiraled once more a number of days later.
The Odoms resumed their seek for a doctor who may clarify why the OCD stored returning and at last discovered veteran neurologist Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, who suspected strep may not be the one offender behind Connor’s situation and ordered extra in depth blood work.
“It is as in the event you caught a psychological sickness,” Trifiletti mentioned. “Most kids react to infections like a strep throat by getting a fever and feeling ailing. However a small proportion of children react in a different way and have a sudden behavioral change and develop these traits of OCD.”
Trifiletti added that PANDAS continues to be an rising analysis and there’s debate inside the medical group about its trigger and how one can deal with it. However Trifiletti believes any an infection that may spike a fever may cause PANDAS in a toddler who’s prone to it, which is why some docs at the moment are beginning to discuss with it merely as PANS, which is brief for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome.
“In Connor, certainly, we discovered numerous issues happening, and we realized there have been loads of infections to deal with,” Trifiletti mentioned.
One of many components was Lyme illness, which the Odoms consider has been in Connor’s system since he was 18 months outdated.
“He awakened one morning and half his face wasn’t transferring,” Lucia mentioned. “We went to a specialist to try to work out what it was and so they mentioned Bell’s palsy. We handled him for 30 days with a steroid and it went away.”
Connor Odom at the moment performs basketball at Oak Hill Academy, a legendary hoops boarding college in southern Virginia the place former alums embrace Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo. Courtesy Odom household
But it surely hadn’t, actually. His mother and father consider the Lyme illness had been lurking in Connor’s bloodstream for greater than a decade, triggering his OCD together with the strep when he hit puberty.
“For this reason nothing labored,” Lucia mentioned. Trifiletti “found out the lacking piece.”
“Lastly, I’ve a solution,” Connor mentioned of his analysis. “I do know that my worries are brought about, satirically, from germs, however at the least I do know that I am not loopy and worrying about nothing.”
Connor mentioned the arduous actuality of OCD is that after it units in, it may be very tough to manage. Although he shortly began an aggressive routine of medicine and dietary supplements to battle the Lyme illness, the Odoms simply assumed they have been headed to Nashville once more.
Besides, this time, “Connor fought it on his personal,” Ryan mentioned. “That is the primary time I’ve seen him try this. I used to be so happy with him.”
For Ryan, main his UMBC group to that historic upset a 12 months in the past was nothing in comparison with Connor’s battle with OCD.
“Definitely. What we did at UMBC is an upset for the ages — for now, till any individual else does it. There are at all times upsets,” Ryan mentioned. “Once you see your youngster overcome one thing this traumatic and this difficult, it takes a particular particular person to do this.”
After lacking two years of college, Connor is now taking accelerated lessons at Oak Hill Academy, a legendary basketball boarding college situated within the mountains of southern Virginia the place former alums embrace Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo.
A number of of Connor’s teammates are at the least a foot taller than him, together with his roommate, whose aspect of the room seems to be as completely matted as one would anticipate from a 17-year-old. Connor’s aspect, nonetheless, is immaculate. Connor may by no means shake the necessity to maintain all the things clear and arranged, Trifiletti mentioned; he may need future relapses. However the truth that Connor can now stroll into the boy’s locker room barefoot and choose by way of a mound of soiled laundry seeking his sneakers, the physician mentioned, “is unbelievable.”
When requested if Connor is at Oak Hill coaching as much as be the following Coach Odom, his grandfather sported a understanding grin.
“There have been some actually darkish days, however there’s nice stability in life,” he replied. “And basketball was the Odom household’s anchor. It has stored us afloat.”
Reporter Tisha Thompson and producer Arty Berko work for ESPN’s Enterprise and Investigative models.