Two years ago this month, a mysterious and unrelenting pain erupted in Bo Wheeler’s left hip the day after he suffered a hard hit during a football scrimmage at Northampton High School. He’s a student there and tight end on their Konkrete Kids squad and also competes in track-and-field events.
The next morning, the 15-year-old awoke at his home in Bethlehem with a bruise on his hamstring. Sharp pain in the back of his leg radiated up to his hip so bad that he could barely stand or walk.
Over the weeks and months that followed, the high school sophomore lost much of his mobility on his left side, his appetite waned, and his weight dropped quickly.
“Bo’s condition got worse every day,” recalls his father, Bob Wheeler, “and we had no idea what was causing it.” He dropped 15 pounds in the first few weeks, reducing his 6’1” frame dramatically.
“He was getting worse, we were getting more worried, and we didn’t know what to do,” says Bob. He even had to help his 15-year-old son in and out of the shower and bed, literally anytime he moved. The family desperately hoped for an answer.
Fortunately, a friend of his mother, Jill Wheeler, suggested Bo be assessed by Daniel Heckman, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at St. Luke’s who specializes in sports injuries.
“This was the turning point for Bo,” Jill says. Her son had lost 35 pounds, and he was losing the muscle mass he needed for football and track.
Dr. Heckman ordered an MRI of Bo’s hip and bloodwork to search for an answer to this perplexing injury.
The night of September 8, 2021, Jill received a call from Dr. Heckman, telling her to rush Bo to St. Luke’s Bethlehem Campus hospital. The blood tests showed extremely high markers for inflammation.
“He said it could be one of two things: a bad infection or cancer,” said Jill. “But he wasn’t sure which one at that point.”
During a surgery, St. Luke’s orthopedic surgeon Chinenye Nwachuku, MD, found a staph infection in Bo’s hip and in the muscle that overlies the hip and top part of the femur. Dr. Nwachuku flushed and cleaned out the festering disease from the affected area. His IV antibiotic course lasted several weeks, including eight days of hospitalization at St. Luke’s Bethlehem to get the infection under control, followed by home IV antibiotics to complete the course.
Because of his age, Bo’s care was turned over to pediatric orthopedic surgeon Dustin Greenhill, MD, and Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke's senior vice president of Medical and Academic Affairs and section chief emeritus of Infectious Diseases. They worked in tandem to vanquish the infection and put Bo on the road to recovery, which took several months of antibiotics, physical therapy and doctor visits.
“Both doctors provided our peace of mind with their kindness, expertise and availability to us at any time, day or night,” says Jill.
Adds her husband, “Dr. Jahre called us daily to ask about Bo and give us an update on his bloodwork when it was taken.”
By December of that year, Bo was gaining back weight, muscle and mobility, working out with guidance from St. Luke’s athletic trainers at school. He hoped to be able to return to the football field the following summer, but that was delayed as he gained strength and speed and worked out to build up his body for competition.
The following June, Bo’s junior year at Northampton, he had grown to a height of 6’2” and weighed 185 pounds. He returned to the gridiron, though he did not start that football season.
The source of the infection was determined to have likely emanated from an earlier football injury. It is now cleared up and Bo’s health has been restored to the relief of his parents and himself.
“When it comes to solving complex problems,” Dr. Jahre said, “St. Luke’s excels because of our culture of collegial collaboration among our experts in their respective fields. In other words, because of our teamwork.”
Now a senior at Northampton, standing 6’3” and weighing a powerful 225 lbs., Bo has a starting spot on its football team, which played its first preseason game on August 26 against Central Catholic High School in J. Burney Crum Stadium in Allentown.
He’s hoping to attend the US Naval Academy or win an athletic scholarship to Lebanon Valley College or the University of Delaware to play football. As for his college major, he’s considering physical therapy. “I want to help people who suffer from problems that limit their ability to participate in and enjoy life,” Bo says.
He, and his family, are grateful for the excellent medical care Bo received from St. Luke’s at a time when he was at his most vulnerable in his young life.
“We can’t say enough about how well we were treated by the doctors, nurses, trainers and staff,” said Bob. Adds Jill, “It’s truly gratifying to see Bo healthy again and able to participate in competitive sports again. At one point in 2021, we weren’t sure that would ever be possible.”