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The one and only - Dietrich excels despite one kidney

March 22, 2002|BY BOB PARASILITI

SMITHSBURG - In most cases, Mike Dietrich would be one of those athletes measured by the size of his heart.

To say the least, the Smithsburg senior has an uncanny drive. It stands much taller than his diminutive 5-foot-9 frame and has raised him to his place among the best competitors as an All-State linebacker and a high finisher in the recent state wrestling championships.

Those accomplishments alone speak volumes about his heart. But unbeknowst to his competition, that huge heart is just about six inches north of the single kidney in charge of keeping Mike's body functioning at its athletic peak.

For most of his life and his entire athletic career, Mike has quietly competed with one functioning kidney - an organ four times its normal size at birth and forced to do double the work. Surgery at age 4 eliminated the useless part of the set, but that hasn't stopped Mike from excelling at three of the most physical games in scholastic sports - football, wrestling and lacrosse - with more guts than most players who have all their guts.

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It was one of those cards that some are dealt in the game of life.

It just took an attitude like Mike's to turn it into a winning hand.

"Knowing what I know, I never would have dreamed Mike would do all this," said Joe Dietrich, his father and his coach. "It's not even all the awards. I'm just thrilled at what he has done, especially knowing from where he was coming from and all the strain he had when he was 5 years old."

Mike has surpassed his father's dreams while, quite possibly, topping any expectations he had for himself along the way.

"I'm surprised of what I've accomplished," Mike said. "It's amazing what I have done with only one kidney and having all that trouble. They never thought I would play sports at all. I learned that if you put your mind to it, you can do anything."

Mike has played and Mike has conquered. Consider his roll call of accomplishments:

- Football - Second team Maryland Class 1A/2A all-state linebacker. Herald-Mail first team All- Area defensive player. All-Monocacy Valley Athletic League linebacker and fullback. All-MVAL Media Team defensive player of the year. He finished his high school football career as one of Smithsburg's top five all-time tacklers.

- Wrestling - Third in the Class 1A/2A state wrestling tournament at 160 pounds. He compiled a 31-3 record as a senior, including his third straight championship at Smithsburg's Leopard Invitational.

- Lacrosse - That season lies ahead. It will be his final high school go-round in his one of favorite sports, which debuts as an MVAL sport.

As his high school years draw to a close, Mike said he'd like to head to college - maybe a Division III school that offers football and wrestling.

It would be the ultimate reward for Mike, who has maintained a quiet level of courage that he shrugs off as just living life.

"I don't really think about it," Mike said. "It was done so long ago, I really don't think about it. I have never been afraid of it ... afraid of being hit and getting the kidney hurt. I know what to do to avoid getting hurt."

There was a day when the whole Dietrich family could do nothing but think about Mike's kidney.

"When he was young, he was having trouble going to the bathroom," Joe said. "He was getting sick and there was some swelling. The doctors thought it might be epispadias (a misplaced urinary tact opening)."

Still, no one was certain. The family was sent to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion. They were matched with Dr. Robert D. Jeffs, an expert in pediatric urology.

Dr. Jeffs told the family he was going to run some tests. If the results came back as he suspected, Mike's kidney would have to be removed.

"I said 'Whoa' and I went to our other doctor," Joe said. "He just told us that Jeffs would know, he's the best."

The test proved Mike had a non-functioning kidney, one that wasn't connected to anything in his system and wasn't processing the waste in his body. In fact, it was undersized and dripping thickened urine into his system, causing an infection.

On the other side, however, was the king of all kidneys - nearly twice the normal size and doing all the work.

"When I was developing, I guess it didn't split too well," Mike said. "It was there when I was born and it was basically killing me."

Mike underwent surgery to remove the bad kidney. He traveled with his family to Hopkins twice a year for the next two years for checkups. After that, he dropped to annual exams for five years, just to make sure everything in Mike was functioning properly.

While Mike recovered from his surgery, he watched the Dietrich family continue its athletic lifestyle. Joe is the head wrestling coach, an assistant on the Leopard football staff and helped launch the school's lacrosse program. Mike's brother Kris, competed in football and wrestled to two third-place finishes in state competition and traveled the country for AAU freestyle tournaments. Mike's sister, Allison, is an aspiring athlete.

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