Already big for his age and possessing a love for football, Jordan Taapken was playing hard in preparation for the upcoming season three years ago. He could see from playing with the Alberton Junior High team a year earlier that the team had a promising future.
But after participating in two-a-days, the preseason routine where players practice twice each day to enhance conditioning and learn the team’s offensive and defensive plays, Taapken could tell something was wrong.
Already limping and in pain as he left the field Taapken went home, where he was shocked to see his urine had taken on a dark, coffee-colored color.
“When I went to the bathroom I saw that my urine was really dark colored,” he said. “I was mortified.”
When he told his parents, Michael and Melinda, about the incident they too were very alarmed.
“His urine was the color of soy sauce,” Melinda, his step-mother, said. “When I saw that, I went into survival mode and grabbed the car keys.”
A quick trip to a nearby medical clinic where the cause of the problem was not clearly identified.
“At first they (medical staff) thought it could be a kidney stone,” Jordan said. “More tests were ordered and I was taken to the hospital in Missoula.”
“When we got to the hospital more tests were ordered and he was admitted,” Michael said. “At first they put him in the pediatric unit but he was too big for the beds they had.”
When the battery of tests results came in, Jordan was diagnosed with rhabdomyolosis, a illness related to dehydration and the resulting break down of muscle tissues. The coffee-colored urine was the result of protein myoglobin, which is produced when muscles begin to deteriorate.
His parents were told blood and urine tests revealed a count in excess of 54,000 units per liter of creatine kinase, substantially higher than the normal range of 100 p/l.
Michael said he began researching the diagnosed illness and was relieved to learn the disease is not a genetic-related one, meaning Jordan would not be affected the rest of his life.
But, as Melinda said, “Our family physician said he didn’t know enough about the condition and therefore could not release Jordan to play football.”
The good news amid the calamity was that treatment was pretty basic … drink more water. Lots more water.
“He drank a lot of water, pretty much a bottle every hour for months and lots of salt (to help retain fluids),” Melinda said. It was three or four months before we got final results on everything.”
Although his recovery was progressing well, extreme muscle soreness from the damage done early on caused him to miss his freshmen, sophomore and junior seasons.
Michael remembers the initial onset of the illness well.
“When I picked him up from practice that day he was so sore he could hardly walk.”
Jordan still must consume large amounts of water, up to a gallon each day. And while his recovery has gone well, he is vigilant in the treatment process to prevent a return.
“There’s always a chance it could come back some day,” he said. “I just really have to watch it. For now I’m feeling pretty good.”
That’s been good news for him and his teammates on the unbeaten, second-ranked Clark Fork Mountain Cats football team, a co-op featuring players from Alberton and Superior. Having regained most of the strength he lost during the ordeal, he is now a 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound mainstay lineman who plays both sides of the ball.
While he wasn’t able to play those three years, he stayed involved with the team, serving as a manager and helping with filming and other chores.
This year’s team is widely expected to be a top challenger for the state championship for 8-man football. Once this year is done, he isn’t sure what his athletic future will hold. He said he may join the National Guard or attend Gallatin Community College to pursue an education in paleontology.
For now, he is focused on finishing high school and being part of a very good football team.
But he isn’t forgetting what it was like to sit and watch.
“Sports was something I was good at,” he said. “I missed football a lot. One of the hardest parts of this was telling the coach I wouldn’t be able to play. I’ve never quit any sport and it was hard just watching.”
“He’s making up for lost time,” said his proud father.