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Westfield DB won't let even MS put end to dreams

By SARAH HORNADAY
Robert KibbeNeither a knee injury nor multiple sclerosis has stopped Westfield's Robert Kibble from his dream of playing college football. UCLA has stood by its scholarship offer, and Kibble hopes to make it official on national signing day (Feb. 2).

If you ask Westfield's Robert Kibble, he's had a great senior year.

He committed to play football at UCLA. His team made it to the state final. His daughter was born last fall. And he's one of five finalists for the Watkins Award, presented annually to African-American scholar-athletes.

It doesn't seem to bother him that his playing time was limited by a knee injury and his world was forever changed when he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in August.

"If you asked me a month ago, I might have answered differently," Kibble said. "Life changes. This makes me a better, stronger person. After these past few months, I can handle anything."

If a person is defined by how he reacts to the things that happen to him and not what happens, Kibble is more of a man than his 18 years would indicate. With his world changing, Kibble hasn't faltered.

"I admire him for how he handled the whole situation," Westfield coach Corby Meekins said. "Robert's very disciplined. He's very serious. He's taken everything that's happened in stride. He's like, 'This happened; this is what I need to do, and that's what needs to be done.' "

Kibble was and is a picture of health. He started his senior season in the best condition of his life.

He had no recruiting worries since he had committed to UCLA over the summer. His concerns were preparing for the birth of his child, making the most of his senior football season and keeping up his 3.7 grade-point average.

All that changed on Aug. 27, when he was diagnosed with MS an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system.

During two-a-day practices, Kibble experienced numbness in his right foot. He mentioned it but wrote it off to poor circulation.

"I thought I tied my shoelaces too tight," Kibble said.

When the numbness moved up his leg, he sought more advice an MRI and blood tests. He tried to continue, though his hands were swollen and he felt numb from neck to toe, making it hard to breathe. When the test results came back, he was told to go to Tomball Medical Center.

"I knew it was bad when they told me to go straight to the hospital," Kibble said.

The rush to the emergency room was the beginning of an anxious week in the hospital.

Kibble was quickly diagnosed with MS, but it took another 48 hours to find out more details. An MRI showed Kibble had three lesions on his brain and one on his spinal cord. Each lesion affects the nerves' ability to conduct electrical impulses to and from the brain, producing the symptoms of MS.

The MRI painted a bleak picture. But by the end of that week, he found a little relief in knowing he could still play football.

"You heard of MS and you know the bad side effects," Meekins said. "Here's a guy in the best condition of his life and you don't know what's going to happen."

Living with MS

There is no way to sugar-coat MS. It's an incurable disease, but for some it's a disease that can be controlled by medicine. Kibble's fears were lessened when he realized he could still play football.

"It scared me real bad," Kibble said."The hardest thing was thinking I couldn't do all the things I'd been doing."
Kibble, 18, has one of the "mildest" forms in relapsing-remitting characteristics. The condition is controllable through medication.

He injects medicine in his thigh three times a week. The medicine has a side effect of flu-like symptoms ranging from nausea and chills to headaches.

Except for an extreme reaction the first time he took the medicine sending him back to the emergency room life has become routine for Kibble. He can take the medicine at night and sleep through most side effects, which are similar to a common cold.

Memorable senior season

Kibble was on the sidelines for the Mustangs' Sept. 10 opener against Alief Taylor. He returned to practice the next week. "I tried to do what I used to do, but I couldn't," Kibble said.

No stopping

Like anyone, Kibble needed time to adjust to his situation. But the disease wouldn't stop him.

"I was determined to beat it," he said. "I didn't want that to be the end of it."

Kibble has a strong network of friends and family who helped him.

He had the desire to keep all his dreams alive whether playing in the NFL or becoming an orthopedic surgeon and he got plenty of encouragement.