Being a Spartan is about surviving and overcoming. We hear stories all the time of people who inspire us. Here is a story of a 22-year-old Baltimore man who defied death and is looking forward to a Spartan event in New York.
When then nine-year-old Vince LaMartina arrived at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore, MD, the doctors were baffled. His skin had a purplish tint, blisters were forming in his mouth and throat, and the original strep throat diagnosis was now clearly mistaken. Diagnosed with a rare and rapidly progressing form of Henoch-Schonlein Purpura (HSP), Vice was checked into the Critical Pediatric Unit and the LaMartina family could only hope that one of the best hospitals in the world could save their son.
HSP is a form of blood vessel inflammation, or vasculitis. Vince’s distorted skin hue was a direct result of large quantities of his capillaries bursting spontaneously and causing his skin to literally appear purple in color. The illness is rare, but Vince’s version was rarer still, and most likely caused by his strep throat infection from a month before. HSP seems to trigger the immune system to continue to attack the body even after the infection is gone, which causes aggravated symptoms, as well as organ and tissue damage. HSP occurs most commonly in children.
LaMartina’s illness continued to spread, and for six months his family and doctors wondered if he would be able to survive the havoc it wrought on his young body. The blistering rash in his mouth and throat severely limited his breathing to 25% of normal capacity, and he relied on a respirator in order to breathe. Eating normally was not an option either, and despite a feeding tube, LaMartina began to lose weight rapidly. “Usually HSP isn’t a life or death situation, but mine was.
“They told my parents they thought I was going to die. You need to start preparing for the worst. I remember the day they had the pastor come in and talk to me about heaven. Even at the age of nine you start to realize something serious is going on.”
Fighting the infection took time. Once his throat and mouth had cleared up, his intestines and colon became infected and entangled. This led to surgery–a surgeon actually took the contents of his stomach out of his body and then put them back in. “That’s a huge operation for anyone, but I was nine years old,” says LaMartina.
The surgery represented the end of his critical stages of treatment. In fact, after the surgery the HPS was gone, but for LaMartina, it was just the beginning of his battle toward long-term recovery. “I had a few problems with my kidneys and a few problems with capillaries bursting. To this day, they aren’t sure why it cleared up how and when it did. I was a case study.”
His main priority during his recovery period was to gain back the precious weight he lost while in the hospital so that he could get moving again. He left the hospital in a wheelchair, and could only move around on crutches. LaMartina had been athletic from the age of five, playing lacrosse and basketball, and his family wondered if he would be able to return to his love of sports. Only time would tell. LaMatina was able to return to sports, though he still suffers some residual side effects from his childhood health scare. “It’s very easy for me to get dehydrated. For races, I have to make sure I plan to get water and know when I’m getting dehydrated. Anytime I have any stomach issues they look more closely, because of my history, and there are occasionally kidney problems for people with HSP.”
But none of that could deter LaMartina from starting a running club earlier this year with some of his college buddies. Team Peacock‘s name is inspired by a line from the film The Other Guys, by Mark Wahlberg: “I’m a peacock, you gotta let me fly.” The club’s long- term goal is to run a marathon together. They train and run races to get prepared, and LaMartina is taking on the Tuxedo, NY Spartan Sprint June 4th. He’s grateful for the chance to be able to do something so challenging after all he’s been through.
On June 4th, LaMartina gets to “fly” at a Spartan Race, and we have a feeling he’ll do just fine. He’s already survived the odds and that takes true Spartan Spirit. “There were times that I wondered if I would be able to do that again. The Spartan Race is so intense and, to go from where I was to this race, I’m proud of that.” We’re proud too. Aroo!