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Kindred: NCHS boys senior an Ironman in every way

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By Randy Kindred | | The Kindred Blog:

In a Class 4A regional basketball game last week, Kyle Dierkes attempted to take a charging foul. There was no whistle as the 6-foot-8 Dierkes crashed to the floor.

He didn't stay long.

Dierkes got up and was the first big man to arrive at the other end of the court. He caught a pass and was fouled while going in for a layup.

That kind of hustle is admirable, no matter the circumstances. That it came from Dierkes, given his circumstances, is amazing.

The Normal Community High School senior plays with pain few of us have known. It's been that way since fourth grade, when he tore the meniscus in his right knee at a wrestling tournament.

Surgery at the time removed his meniscus, no big deal for folks past their primes. That is, you and me.

Dierkes was still young and active. He plunged headlong into basketball, and through years of running and jumping on hard surfaces, the missing meniscus led to excruciating pain. There was no cushion between his femur and the lower bones in his leg.

By the end of his sophomore season, the base of Dierkes" femur was fractured. Pieces of bone and cartilage had "basically ended up dying," he said, because of limited blood flow.

Restoring life to the knee, and his career, would require outside help.

It came from Chicago-area surgeon Dr. Brian Cole and two tissue donors. One supplied cartilage, the other a meniscus.

Cole, who is team surgeon for the Chicago Bulls, White Sox and DePaul University, performed two surgeries on Dierkes. The second, in December 2008, was a meniscus and osteochondral allograft. In layman's terms, Dierkes received a transplanted meniscus and transplanted cartilage. He has used them, and an iron will, to get back on the court for his senior season, which continues tonight with a 7:30 sectional semifinal against East Moline at Pekin.

Dierkes began running in the fall for the first time in 18 months. A few weeks later, he was on the court for NCHS' season opener. He is a starter and has played every game for the 21-9 Ironmen, averaging 6.7 points and 5.0 rebounds.

His father, Ron Dierkes, calls it "a miracle." His coach, Dave Witzig, calls him "a warrior."

Believe them.

"Dr. Cole deserves all the credit," Kyle Dierkes said. "He told me from day one that he would get me back to playing. It's worked."

Never mind that scar tissue has built up in the knee from the four surgeries (two earlier, two by Cole), or that Cole will operate again on April 2 to "do a little cleanup in there."

Forget that Dierkes ices the swollen knee regularly and takes Advil to dull the pain.

"I'm playing," he said, smiling. "That's all that matters."

Actually, the way he plays matters too.

Dierkes has drawn 19 charging fouls. No one else on the team has more than two.

He routinely dives on the floor, as if his body was pain-free. Watch him, Witzig says, "and you'd never guess he had a serious knee problem he"s come back from."

Nor would you guess he has Marfan syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can impact the valves in the heart. Dierkes has been able to manage his with medication.

"Since I was about 7 years old I've been taking a blood pressure medicine every night," he said. "I've had no problems with it.

"Most people with that type of thing aren"t lucky enough to be able to play sports. I'm just thankful I was able to play."

He plans to play next year and beyond. A number of Division III and junior colleges have expressed interest.

Witzig predicts Dierkes"' "best basketball is ahead of him," but for now, the focus is on beating East Moline (19-8).

Ironically, NCHS will try to do so in the same gym Dierkes injured his knee while wrestling eight years ago.

He has come full circle. And, given his circumstances, has come out on top.

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