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High School Athlete’s Medical Mystery Solved by St. Luke’s Team

Bo Wheeler SLUHN

Two years ago this month, a mysterious and unrelenting pain erupted in Bo Wheeler’s left hip the day after he suffered a hard hit during a football scrimmage at Northampton Area High School. It would take a team of medical experts at St. Luke’s University Health Network to diagnose the source of his pain, devise a treatment plan and put the young athlete on a road to recovery that ultimately led back to his beloved gridiron.

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Two years ago this month, a mysterious and unrelenting pain erupted in Bo Wheeler’s left hip the day after he suffered a hard hit during a football scrimmage at Northampton Area High School. He’s a student there and tight end on their Konkrete Kids squad, and also competes in track and field events.

The next morning, the 15-year-old awoke at his home in Bethlehem with a bruise on his hamstring. Sharp pain in the back of his leg radiated up to his hip and was so bad that he could barely stand or walk.

Over the weeks and months that followed, the high school sophomore lost much of his mobility on his left side, his appetite waned and his weight dropped quickly.

“Bo’s condition got worse every day,” recalled his father, Bob Wheeler, “and we had no idea what was causing it.” He dropped 15 pounds in the first few weeks, reducing his 6’1” frame dramatically.

“He was getting worse, we were getting more worried and we didn’t know what to do,” said Bob. He even had to help his 15-year-old son in and out of the shower and bed, literally anytime he moved. The family desperately hoped for an answer.

Fortunately, a friend of his mother, Jill Wheeler, suggested Bo be assessed by Daniel Heckman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke’s who specializes in sports injuries.

“This was the turning point for Bo,” Jill said. Her son had lost 35 pounds and he was losing the muscle mass he needed for football and track.

Dr. Heckman ordered an MRI of Bo’s hip and bloodwork to search for an answer to this perplexing injury.

The night of Sept. 8, 2021, Jill received a call from Dr. Heckman, telling her to rush Bo to St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus hospital. The blood tests showed extremely high markers for inflammation.

“He said it could be one of two things: a bad infection or cancer,” said Jill. “But he wasn’t sure which one at that point.”

During a surgery, St. Luke’s orthopedic surgeon Chinenye Nwachuku, MD, found a staph infection in Bo’s hip and in the muscle that overlies the hip and top part of the femur. Dr. Nwachuku flushed and cleaned out the festering disease from the affected area. His IV antibiotic course lasted several weeks and included eight days of hospitalization at St. Luke’s Bethlehem to get the infection under control, followed by home IV antibiotics to complete the course.

Because of his age, Bo’s care was turned over to pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dustin Greenhill, MD, and Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke’s senior vice president of Medical and Academic Affairs and section chief emeritus of Infectious Diseases. They worked in tandem to vanquish the infection and put Bo on the road to recovery, which took several months of antibiotics, physical therapy and doctor visits.

“Both doctors provided our peace of mind with their kindness, expertise and availability to us at any time, day or night,” said Jill.

“Dr. Jahre called us daily to ask about Bo and give us an update on his bloodwork when it was taken,” added Bob.

By December of that year, Bo was gaining back weight, muscle and mobility, and working out with guidance from St. Luke’s athletic trainers at school. He hoped to be able to return to the football field the following summer, but that was delayed as he gained strength and speed and worked out to build up his body for competition.

The following June, Bo’s junior year at Northampton, he had grown to a height of 6’2” and weighed 185 pounds. He returned to the gridiron, though he did not start that football season.

Bo Wheeler SLUHN

Bo Wheeler is now a senior at Northampton Area High School and hopes to continue playing football in college. (Contributed photo)

The source of the infection was determined to have likely emanated from an earlier football injury. It is now cleared up and Bo’s health has been restored, to the relief of his parents and himself.

“When it comes to solving complex problems,” Dr. Jahre said, “St. Luke’s excels because of our culture of collegial collaboration among our experts in their respective fields. In other words, because of our teamwork.”

Now a senior at Northampton, standing 6’3” and weighing a powerful 225 pounds, Bo has a starting spot on its football team, which played its first preseason game on Aug. 26 against Central Catholic High School in J. Birney Crum Stadium in Allentown.

He’s hoping to attend the U.S. Naval Academy or win an athletic scholarship to Lebanon Valley College or the University of Delaware to play football. As for his college major, he’s considering physical therapy. “I want to help people who suffer from problems that limit their ability to participate in and enjoy life,” Bo said.

He and his family are grateful for the excellent medical care Bo received from St. Luke’s at a time in his young life when he was at his most vulnerable.

“We can’t say enough about how well we were treated by the doctors, nurses, trainers and staff,” said Bob.

“It’s truly gratifying to see Bo healthy again and able to participate in competitive sports again,” added Jill. “At one point in 2021, we weren’t sure that would ever be possible.”

Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.


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