Football: Vista PEAK’s Dylan Holt overcomes compartment syndrome to get back on field

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Ice packs and ibuprofen always did the trick to treat the daily bumps and bruises Dylan Holt got on the football field.

That regular recovery regimen — very common among prep football players — worked like a charm until a recent summer night when the Vista PEAK star junior wide receiver suddenly couldn’t feel his right foot, a scary turn that required much more drastic action.

Shortly after his parents Vanessa and Stanley took him to Children’s Hospital Colorado, doctors diagnosed Holt with acute compartment syndrome, which none of the family had heard of, but terrified them when they learned more about it.

“I was laying down and I felt a weird tingling in my toes and all of a sudden I totally lost feeling in my whole foot,” Holt recalled. “That’s when I told my mom. My dad thought it was just a small bone fracture, but they told my mom they had to do a procedure right away.”

The procedure needed to happen soon because the muscles in Holt’s right leg — the ones he used to gain the separation he needed to be a 1,000-yard receiver for the Bison in 2014 — were literally dying off.

Brought about by severe trauma or overuse — the likely culprit for Holt, who had worked himself hard in back-to-back-to-back football camps — compartment syndrome causes pressure to build in the affected limb, which cuts off adequate blood supply to muscles and nerves. Amputation becomes a stronger possibility the longer the condition goes untreated.

“I was laying down and I felt a weird tingling in my toes and all of a sudden I totally lost feeling in my whole foot,” Holt recalled. “That’s when I told my mom. My dad thought it was just a small bone fracture, but they told my mom they had to do a procedure right away.”

So there was little time to waste, even though Holt seemed to be handling it better than the majority of people with compartment syndrome, who largely describe it as the most searing, unbearable pain they’ve ever experienced.

“Usually people would be screaming and in agonizing pain, but I was laid back about it,” Holt said about his surgery. “I really didn’t know what was going on.”

Vista PEAK junior Marcus Holt is back to practicing and making catches like these just over two months after his bout with compartment syndrome. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)
Vista PEAK junior Dylan Holt is back to practicing and making catches like these just over two months after his bout with compartment syndrome. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

Once his surgeon sliced into Holt’s leg — making a long incision from the ankle bone to the top of the knee — his dying leg muscle literally fell out.

More dead muscle, blood and fluids came out of Holt’s leg during his three rounds of surgery — which included a fasciotomy — and the leg had to be left open for several days before the swelling went down enough to stitch it up.

Holt documented the happenings with pictures on Instagram.

Acute compartment syndrome isn’t common, but should be familiar to fans of the Denver Broncos.

Former Denver and current Houston Texans safety Rahim Moore — still held in contempt by some Broncos fans years after his misplay of a desperation pass allowed the Baltimore Ravens to tie and eventually beat Denver in a home playoff game — developed the same condition after an injury suffered in a game in 2013.

More dead muscle, blood and fluids came out of Holt’s leg during his three rounds of surgery — which included a fasciotomy — and the leg had to be left open for several days before the swelling went down enough to stitch it up.

Moore managed to get treated in time and made a full recovery. He’s become the poster boy for compartment syndrome, especially for athletes.

Stanley Holt, who played high school football at Denver’s John F. Kennedy High School and had a college career at Fort Lewis, suffered a total knee blowout as a 24-year-old playing semi-pro football and thought he knew just about everything about possible injuries. He wasn’t prepared for what he was about to learn about compartment syndrome.

“I grabbed my phone and typed in Rahim Moore and began to read the story; there was a knot in my throat and I kept thinking, ‘Is this really happening?’” he said. “I just put the phone down, I couldn’t read anymore. I couldn’t believe it.”

Dylan Holt’s calm facade also crumbled when he found out about what Moore went through, including the possibility — though remote — of losing his leg.

“I was pretty much in tears thinking about it,” Holt admitted. “That’s why you shouldn’t take anything for granted.”

Vista PEAK football coach John Sullivan saw Holt injure his left leg at the Denver Broncos 7-on-7 camp, so he was shocked to hear about Holt ending up in the hospital because of his other leg.

Sullivan visited Holt as soon as he came out of surgery and became a steady presence at his bedside during a weeklong hospital stay, assuring him and his family that they would have all the time needed for him to return to health.

“It was a pretty substantial injury and it was tough emotionally on him,” Sullivan said. “Dylan’s a stud kid from a quality family. His health is the most important aspect, so we’re certainly not going to push him.”

As amazing as the injury itself was, Holt’s recovery has been nothing short of miraculous.

Moore had the supervision of a professional medical staff and needed six months to come back, but Holt defied the odds when he earned clearance to get back on the field after a little over two months of twice-a-week physical therapy.

“Some said it would be a couple of months, others said it would be a year, so my doctor said to just work hard in physical therapy and we’d go from there,” he said. “It was pretty crushing, you know. To know something that you are used to doing you’re probably not going to do for awhile was pretty stressful.”

Stanley Holt, who played high school football at Denver’s John F. Kennedy High School and had a college career at Fort Lewis, suffered a total knee blowout as a 24-year-old playing semi-pro football and thought he knew just about everything about possible injuries. He wasn’t prepared for what he was about to learn about compartment syndrome.

Holt worked hard and when he got his protective boot off, he came out with no limp and ready to get back on the field.

“It’s really unprecedented and they were using words like ‘remarkable’ because he was healing so quick,” Stanley Holt said.

Holt still could just do workouts and practices and had to miss the Bison’s first game of the 2015 season — a 21-6 loss to Eagle Valley in which he likely could have had a major impact — but he was cleared by all his many doctors and suited up for Vista PEAK’s Sept. 12 game at Central of Grand Junction.

Though his dad estimated him at 75 percent, Holt racked up 211 yards receiving and three touchdowns, including a score with less than two minutes left that stood up as the difference in the Bison’s 56-48 victory.

Stanley Holt calls himself an “extremist” when it comes to being cautious with an injury, so he’ll keep an eagle eye on his son from the bleachers and up close. Compartment syndrome has a 15 percent or less chance of recurrence.

As he continues to return to health, Holt wants to do whatever he can to help lead Vista PEAK to its first playoff appearance as a program and beyond. He’s embraced the expectations of Sullivan and a new coaching staff.

“They treat us all to a higher standard and want us to have a higher work ethic,” Holt said. “We’re happy to work hard and play for coaches like that on the field.”