He expected to battle college midterms and even opponents on the soccer field, but Mark Thompson never thought he’d have to tackle life-threatening brain cysts during his freshman year in college.
But he did.
Thompson was diagnosed as having two life-threatening cysts in his brain just weeks after beginning college. He was a freshman at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, hailing from Adrossan, Scotland.
“It was shock … It was complete shock,” Thompson said of finding out about the cysts. “One of my first thoughts was, ‘at least it’s not a tumor.’”
He said he attended USAO because it gave him options he didn’t necessarily have in Scotland.
“Back home, I was working a rubbish job,” he said. “I’m studying something here I wouldn’t be studying back home.”
The now elementary education sophomore pushed through his recovery quickly, all in order to continue to play soccer for the Drovers.
‘It didn’t get any better’
Thompson began to get short, but very intense and frequent headaches in September of 2008, but a quick doctor’s appointment determined a case of cluster headaches, he said. Thompson was getting a dozen 10-to-12-minute headaches a day. His doctor put him on medication.
“And it didn’t get any better,” he said.
Not long after, Thompson remembers hanging out with some teammates, and all of a sudden, he couldn’t walk, and he was vomiting. A CAT scan revealed two cysts — one on his brain and one on his brain stem. The cysts were allowing fluid into his brain, which would affect his ability to walk, he said.
After being released from the hospital, he went to see USAO’s athletic trainer, Landon Kersey, for the third time.
“And he just doubled over on the floor,” Kersey said.
That was when things began to get fuzzy for Thompson.
“I was on the floor,” Thompson said. “I remember sweat pouring from my body, and the next thing I know, there was an ambulance.”
Paramedics stabilized Thompson at Grady Memorial Hospital before transporting him to Mercy Hospital in Oklahoma City, where his teammates and coaches came to visit.
“I thought the men did very well with it,” Head Soccer Coach Jimmy Hampton said. “Our concern was not ‘Will he be well enough to play?,’ but ‘Will he be well?’”
Kersey said he is glad they were able to find what was wrong with Thompson before it became even more serious.
“I’m just glad we pushed to find out what’s going on. At first, they were just calling it migraines and headaches, and he wasn’t improving,” Kersey said. “There’s potential for something serious … to happen if they don’t catch it.”
Under the knife
Surgery would be needed to remove the cysts. Because of an extended recovery time, Thompson went home to Scotland to undergo the life-threatening procedure.
“I just wanted the pain away,” he said. “At that point, I didn’t care.”
He went under the knife last October. Doctors said he wouldn’t even be able to walk again until February, he said.
Beating the odds, Thompson was walking fine shortly after the surgery and returned to Oklahoma and school in January in order to be eligible for the fall soccer season.
“He’s gotten back on track academically,” Hampton said. “I think he’s a very lucky guy … He’s normal. He’s done very well. You’d never know unless you knew.”
He played in two games so far this season, one against Hillsdale College in August and the other against Mid-America Christian in October.
Thompson’s physical abilities might not be quite back where they had been prior to his surgery, but Hampton maintains that Thompson is working hard.
“The attitude is great. I’ve never heard him complain. Even in the hospital,” Hampton said. “(He’s) very upbeat. He didn’t want to go home.”
Home for Thompson is Ardrossan, Scotland. He is proud of his heritage, and even wore a kilt to his matriculation.
“I just made that a point. I wasn’t going to lose that (heritage),” Thompson said.
Despite the rough few months, and an even longer time to fully get back where he was, Thompson said he looks back on it as just another part of his life.
”It made me realize that people end up in a bad way,” he said. “It’s an experience. Hopefully, after I’ll be strong because of it.”