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Friday, October 17, 2008

It's no sacrifice: Daddy's little girls overshadow hoops all day, every day


Awesome Article from Gary Parrish of www.cbssportsline.com
It's no sacrifice: Daddy's little girls overshadow hoops all day, every day

Jeff Strohm wakes every morning and loads a syringe with medicine.
This is how he now lives his life.
It's a far cry from yesteryear when Strohm was one of the hottest young assistants in college basketball, on staff with Rick Majerus when Utah made the Final Four in 1998 and with Tom Crean when Marquette made the Final Four in 2003. If Strohm's career was a stock, you would've invested in it back then.
But now he finds himself completely out of the profession, instead waking every morning to load a syringe with medicine for two of his three daughters who suffer from a rare disorder of the urea cycle that was diagnosed a little more than a year go.
The medicine is flavored grape.
It's gross grape.
But the gross grape is better than any alternative.
So Dad loads syringes with gross grape.
"They have to take it every morning and night," Strohm said. "It's nasty and it'll probably be bad forever."
This is not a story about basketball.
It's a story about a basketball coach who has been dealt a bad hand and is proof that just when everything is going right it can all turn wrong and that often times there is no rhyme or reason to any of it. Some people who smoke forever never get lung cancer while some people who never smoke do. Some drunken drivers make it home fine while some sober drivers do not. Such is life. It can be senseless and unfair.
The Strohm family knows this now as well as anybody because two of their three daughters have a life-threatening disorder called Argininosuccinic Aciduria (ASA).
There is no tangible cause.
You either inherit it or you don't.
There is no cure.
You either live with it or you don't.
"The doctors have been honest from the start in telling us that they don't completely know (how things will progress)," Strohm said. "Ten years ago everybody who had this died. Now, they don't know. But the long-term effects are scary."
The diagnosis came shortly after Strohm's twin girls -- Jordin and Rylee -- were born in July 2007.
Fortunately, they were born in Kentucky, where Strohm worked as an assistant at Western Kentucky. That's important because though all states require some form of newborn screening, not all states test for ASA. For instance, had Strohm been an assistant at Penn State when his twins were born, they could've gone undiagnosed because the ASA test isn't automatically performed in Pennsylvania. Same goes for West Virginia. But the ASA test is required in Kentucky, and Strohm is thankful for that more than he's thankful for anything.
"People don't understand how important newborn screening is," Strohm said. "We got lucky because we were in Kentucky."
The doctors called a few days after the births with the results of the screenings.
They said Rylee was fine but that Jordin's ammonia levels were extremely high.
They said to get to the hospital in Louisville.
"We asked them, 'What do you mean? Tomorrow?'" Strohm said. "They said, 'No. Right now.'"
When the Strohms arrived at the hospital they learned all about ASA, that it's a disorder of the urea cycle that causes ammonia to accumulate in the blood and urine. They also learned about the symptoms and realized their daughter Sydney, 5 years old at the time, suffered from many of them.
So they had Sydney tested.
The doctors said she had ASA, too.
"I thought I'd be a coach forever, but right now I can't do it," Strohm said. "And people always say, 'It's great that you made the decision not to coach anymore.' But I didn't make the decision. I was forced to make this decision. I have to take care of my girls."
Which is a 24-hour-a-day job.
The medicine comes every morning and night, and a strict, protein-restrictive diet must be followed. Pizza? Can't have it. Hamburgers? Can't have it. Cake? Can't have it. And even if every guideline is followed there is no guarantee kidney failure won't one day be a problem. Or brain damage. Or a coma that leads to death.
"The scary thing is the unknown," Strohm said. "You just don't know what's coming."
That goes for his daughters as well as his career.
Well aware that the demands of coaching would be too much, Strohm has accepted the fact that now isn't an ideal time to break back in. He has relocated his family to Colorado -- partly because there's a Urea Cycle Disorders research hospital in Denver -- and is working a normal 9-to-5 job for Triple Crown Sports, where he has organized the inaugural Cancun Challenge tournament that will next month feature Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, New Mexico, Drake and six other schools.
That's as close to basketball as Strohm will get this season.
If you're wondering, yes, it's difficult.
"I love coaching and I miss it everyday, and I'd be lying if I told you that in the past year I never woke up in the middle of the night and said, 'Why me?'" Strohm acknowledged. "But I was a selfish jerk to be that way. Nothing happened to me. My daughters are going through this. This happened to them.
"And so I might never coach again, but so what? Because there are a lot of days as a coach that you're not a good father. A lot of days. And I still don't know if I do a lot of things right. But I know I'm doing a good thing as a father right now. I'm taking care of my girls and we'll just have to see where the future takes us."

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