Amy Donaldson: Beaver High football player enjoying moments he thought he'd never have

Published: Monday, Nov. 4 2013 10:25 a.m. MST

Beaver's Gideon White (67) prepares to pick up the ball during Beavers' 2A quarterfinal game against Parowan on Friday.

Chris Kesler

BEAVER — Renee White doesn’t spend a lot of afternoons in the stands watching the Beaver High football team practice.

But a couple of weeks ago, she couldn’t resist.

Three years after doctors told her son Gideon that he would never be able to play jarring, contact sports because of a dangerous medical condition, he was doing just that.

“I went to practice and watched him that first week when all he had was a helmet,” she said. “He looked like a bobblehead doll because he wasn’t wearing pads, but it was so fun watching him. Guys were slapping him on the back, and he had a great big, goofy grin on his face. ... It was so fun.”

Gideon White, like his father and older brother, loves sports. But football, maybe because it is his father’s passion, was Gideon’s favorite.

Which is why it seems particularly cruel that it is the one sport that he was forbidden from playing when he was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, a condition in which a vertebra slips or is displaced, causing pain that can be debilitating.

“He’d started complaining about his legs hurting,” Renee White said of her second-oldest son and third of six children. “We thought he was growing too fast.”

A trip to the pediatrician sent them to an orthopedic specialist in Southern Utah, where he had an MRI. It was then that they discovered just how severe his situation was. Doctors rate the problem on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the worst. He was “over a 4.” As it turned out, one of his lumbar vertebra had slipped completely out of alignment, which also caused his pelvis to tip backward.

Doctors told him he’d never play football again.

“It was heartbreaking,” White said. “I came home and just cried. He came home, went to bed and turned his face to the wall. He wouldn’t get up.”

And while he may have been disappointed, he never showed it.

"He was an incredible example to me in positive attitude," White said. The family had been struggling since the White's youngest son, Jubal, was killed in an ATV accident in 2008. So as a mother, seeing her second son suffer seemed even more unfair. "I was focused on getting him fixed and able to go on with life, but I was still very resentful that any of it had to happen."

The family saw several doctors, including one in Las Vegas.

“We’d been told several different things,” White said of the various trips to doctors' offices. She decided to take him to Primary Children's Hospital for one last opinion.

That’s where they met Dr. John Smith, who scheduled surgery immediately.

In October 2010, Gideon had two rods, six screws and a piece of cadaver bone inserted into his lower back. Doctors were able to completely realign his spinal cord, which is rare, White said.

After the repair, Gideon faced a long, difficult recovery.

He had a month at home, while his buddies and his older brother played football. He slowly tried to regain strength and coordination while his friends played basketball and baseball.

His mom decided that he needed to stay busy, even if the activities weren’t the ones for which he was aching.

“When he lost football, part of it was that he couldn’t do anything,” White said. “That’s when he started showing pigs in 4-H. It gave him something to be working toward. He had to train it, gentle it, feed it, care for it.”