Incoming Burnet High School senior and football player Travis Freeman has the past two years recovering from surgery after he was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro
JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
BURNET — At the end of the 2011 football season, then-Burnet High School freshman Travis Freeman was projected to be a member of the Bulldogs varsity squad in 2012.
So during the spring, Freeman worked very hard to earn a spot by running track, working out in the weight room and participating in 7-on-7 football practices.
In the second game of his sophomore season, however, he suffered a foot injury against Rockdale that sidelined him. And when he began to make a comeback, those close to him say they noticed he didn’t look right.
“I was there, but I was pretty out of it,” said Travis, who will be a senior this coming school year. “Sometimes, I’d turn pale. I was real tired, nauseous, I had a headache all the time, and I couldn’t focus.”
Travis and his parents, Ron and Cheri Freeman, did not know that they would be embarking on a two-year journey filled with challenges few families can even imagine.
“He can persevere through this, he can persevere through anything,” Ron Freeman said.
Travis was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the large intestines (colon) and rectum. Crohn’s disease, which runs in the family, is a related condition, the Freemans said.
But it took months before the family was told what was making Travis so ill.
So he kept doing what he always did, including running track in the spring of 2012.
He noticed the track workouts were making him very tired even though the same practices weren’t that hard for his teammates.
Freeman said he had an incident weeks later that he couldn’t ignore. During Spring Break, he was at Bulldog Field going through a workout by himself. But he had an accident, which forced him to call his mother to come get him.
They kept going to see doctors, who told them they couldn’t find what was causing Travis so much discomfort.
Finally Travis’ screams of pain forced Cheri Freeman to load her son into the family car to go to Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas in the fall of 2012. Ron Freeman said she simply could not listen to their son suffer in anguish any longer.
“The mental I could handle,” Travis said. “The worse was the physical. The pain would come back. I’d been trying to get my body to do what I wanted it to, and it wouldn’t listen to me.”
Once they got there, doctors had an idea of what was wrong. A series of tests confirmed ulcerative colitis.
Travis was in surgery for nine hours as doctors worked to remove the colon then cut part of his small intestine to create a pouch. The second surgery was to attach the pouch to serve as his new colon.
“I did some physical things in the hospital,” Travis said. “The main thing was getting up and moving and doing daily things.”
He spent three days in the hospital, which was the shortest amount of time a patient recovering from that type of surgery stayed, he said. One of the reasons he was able to leave so quickly, he said, was because he stopped taking pain medication.
“After about a week, I didn’t need medicine anymore,” he said.
“I researched everything,” his mother said. “People will start coming out of the woodworks. I did talk to other people about what kind of treatments helped them.”
One of the most helpful, she said, was the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.
As Travis was recovering in the hospital, his friends and their families visited. And through it all, he kept repeating the same words over and over.
“Keep going, keep fighting,” he said. “If I can get through football, I can get through a day of this. And if I can get through this, I can get through anything.”
Just when it looked like Travis was on his way back, a weakened immune system made him susceptible to mononucleosis during the winter of 2013.
“Here’s what’s tough,” his dad said as he leaned forward. “Every injury he ever had, from the third grade on, he’d bounce back real fast. Every setback, he’d come back real quick. At every camp he ever went in, he was told he’s going to be a Division I player.”
As a result of the past two years, Travis’ body weight dropped by almost 60 pounds. But during the past several months, Travis has been able to gain some of it back and is at 188 pounds.
“He’s gained some muscle and is filling back out and feeling good,” Ron Freeman said.
The Freemans said it never occurred to them that Travis missing school would keep him from graduating on time because of his lack of attendance. They said they’re grateful to Burnet High School counselor Deanna Thomas for drawing up the paper work to allow Travis to have a tutor in order to do his assignments from home. In all, he was out of school for six months.
But during the time he was away, Travis was still able to be an academic all-district honoree.
When he did return, nurse Tina Jones kept an eye on Travis, the Freemans said.
As he was making a comeback, Travis said his coaches made it clear that it was OK if he needed to stop. He was able to play some during the Bulldogs’ playoff run last season.
“They did everything they could to get me playing time,” he said. “They treated me like I was important and could help the team.”
Travis’ condition kept his parents, especially his mother, awake at night.
“We didn’t sleep,” Ron Freeman said. “You don’t get a good night’s sleep for two years. We slept with one eye open.”
Travis plans to major in physical therapy. His career occupation is the result of what he’s been through the past two years. To get an idea of what’s expected, he has interned at Lakeway in aquatics therapy.
As he heads into his senior season, Travis has been making the most of his summer. He’s attended football camps at North Texas and Baylor and is participating in the Bulldogs’ summer strength-and-conditioning program.
He’s already been told he’ll be in at least 15 offensive plays in addition to being at defensive end.
“I want to be able to make a difference on the team,” he said. “I want to be able to lead us to the playoffs and be in the state championship game. I want to play as much as I can.”
His dad has other hopes for him.
“In his senior year, we want him to be what he’s going to be,” he said. “We want him to continue to do well academically and get prepared for the next level. And then, as he’s going to college, for him to fulfill his dreams, especially football, and do what he thinks is his potential.”