Spring Hill student doesn’t let disorder get him down

Sam Carillo with Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket Denzel McCoy. Photo/Special.

Sam Carillo got mononucleosis in the third grade. The virus, which is like a severe case of the flu, triggered chronic immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), which is a blood disorder that lowers the number of platelets in the blood. Basically, the immune system mistakes platelets for viral material and attacks them. ITP typically goes away on its own after six months, unless it is a chronic version of the disorder. Unfortunately for Carillo, his case is chronic, and because of potential bleeding trauma, he had to quit football and other contact sports.

“I was really good at football, too,” said Carillo, who despite having to curtail some rougher play (not easy for a 10 year old boy), remains upbeat and has channeled his energy into other sports and interests. He has joined a USTA tennis team and started playing violin with the school orchestra at Spring Hill Elementary school.

September is National ITP Awareness Month and Carillo got to address his classmates in the fifth grade recently. He answered their questions about ITP and asked them to wear Purple for Platelets this Friday at school to show support for people who have blood disorders.

“My friends wanted to know things like ‘how do you get ITP?’ and ‘does it hurt?’,” Carillo said. He told them about getting sick, assured them that it doesn’t hurt and isn’t contagious. Carillo’s father, Fred, stated that talking about his disorder in front of his peers was a brave thing and added that Sam has shown bravery since being diagnosed.

“At first, we weren’t sure what was going on and it was really a diagnosis of exclusion,” Fred said. “They were mentioning possibilities of things like leukemia or lymphoma early on and once they were ruled out, they found that it was ITP.”

Fred, a Georgia Tech alumni, heard a story about Denzel McCoy, a football player at the school being diagnosed with a condition that kept him from playing. He contacted the football team, let them know they would be coming to the Georgia Tech-Kansas game and asked if they could set up a meeting between McCoy and Sam.

“I just wanted to see if Denzel could give some words of wisdom to Sam,” Fred Carillo said. “I was blown away with the response of Denzel and the team.”

Sam was invited into the players lounge and got to play Madden on the XBox with Denzel and some of the other redshirt players. He also got to meet head coach Paul Johnson and watch warm-ups from the field before the game.

“Denzel just told Sam that sometimes things happen and that God has a plan,” Fred Carillo said. “He also told him that a friend of his had ITP and grew out of it.”

The majority of children with ITP do recover some of their platelet count and some will fully recover even if ITP is still present after six months.

“Denzel also told Sam that the important thing was to remember there were still a lot of good things he could do,” Fred Carillo said.

That was a lesson not lost on Sam who has found love for the game of tennis.

“It’s the best thing,” Sam said, adding that he hopes to one day have a car company named Carillo.

This Friday, he and his friends at school will wear purple to show awareness and support for people with blood disorders. Sam has plenty of purple to wear including purple Nikes and a purple Kool-Aid shirt.

“I know I’m the same guy I was before, I just can’t hit anybody,” Sam said, after talking about how much he enjoyed playing defense in football.

“We’re just proud of how Sam has dealt with this,” Fred Carillo said of his son. “He knows that when one door closes, another one opens.”

To learn more about ITP or other platelet disorders, visit www.pdsa.org.

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