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Anger & inflammation 

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

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.

"Anger seems to predict an increased risk of heart disease in initially healthy individuals, and several studies have shown that," said study author Edward Suarez, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University. However, until now, no one had studied links between anger and inflammation. "This is the first step to link the behavior to this [heart disease] mechanism - one that's garnering a lot of attention" among cardiologists, he said.

The findings appear in the September issue of Psychosomatic Medicine.

In the study, Suarez tested C-reactive protein (CRP) blood levels in 121 healthy, nonsmoking men and women between 18 and 65 years of age. On the same day, he also measured each participant's level of anger, hostility and depression using a series of standard psychological tests. He found that - in the absence of heart disease risk factors such as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure - high levels of these negative emotional states "significantly predicted the blood level of CRP." Those who were prone to anger, hostility or depression had two to three times higher CRP levels than their more mellow peers, the researchers said.

It's not yet clear why this association exists, but studies are under way to shed light on pathways by which anger or depression might encourage inflammation. In one study, Suarez plans to track patients for two years, to see if hotheaded individuals are any more likely to develop elevated CRP levels over time.

Other studies are planned that focus on anger's effect on stress hormones such as noradrenaline and norepinephrine. The latter hormone, in particular, works on a second chemical, nuclear factor-kappa B, "as a kind of 'off/on' switch" for inflammation," Suarez said. "When that switch is turned on, it begins a cascade of events that leads to the promotion or release of inflammatory proteins."


In the meantime, people concerned about their heart health might want to just "cool it" when tempers flare. "It's very important to pay attention to how we can change these behaviors," Suarez said. "I know it isn't easy, though."
"It's difficult to change patterns of behavior that are intrinsic to who we are as individuals, so it's not going to be an overnight thing," he added. "But we can start by saying, 'What gets me angry?' and 'If I get angry, do I start to feel depressed and withdrawn from my social network?' " Also, take a stress break. "If a walk around the park can calm you down, do it," Suarez said.