By Jacie Scott | LSU Student
The year had arrived. Finally.
After completing a freshman transition season, receiving a "Most Improved" nod as a sophomore and advancing to the semifinals of the United States Tennis Association/Intercollegiate Tennis Association's regional championships as a junior, Mark Bowtell looked forward to his senior season on the LSU Men's Tennis team.
High hopes for a successful senior campaign and emerging as a leader for the team were obvious expectations, but the native of Ireland could not have foreseen the adversity he was about to face.
He competed in three tournaments, earning a 6-2 singles record and 1-2 record in doubles, before he was knocked out for the remainder of the fall season with a rare nervous system disorder, known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).
GBS is a disorder of the nervous system that can cause muscle weakness, loss of reflexes and numbness or tingling in the arms, legs, face or other parts of the body. Experts have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of GBS, but it is believed the nerves are attacked by the body's immune system in the wake of a viral or bacterial infection.
In December 2011, Bowtell was struck with an illness that left him bedridden for several days. He knew something was wrong when he began to feel numbness in his hands and feet, one of the initial signs of GBS.
"I had a fever one day, so I was in bed for about three or four days and when I tried to get back up I struggled with my feet."
This alerted LSU athletic trainers and team doctors. Tests indicated GBS and he was checked into the hospital for further testing and treatment. CAT scans and MRIs confirmed the condition, which ultimately resulted in muscle weakness and nerve damage to Bowtell's feet.
He spent five days in the hospital, only walking to the bathroom. Doctors treated his condition with intravenous immune globulin, also known as IVIG. The additive injects antibodies into the blood to help the body fight the disease. The recovery period for GBS is between three and six months -- or longer.
Though Bowtell's senior season had paused, his spirits remained high. His focus shifted from fighting with his team to fighting for his team. "My immediate thoughts were that I have to get better. My biggest motivation was to get back on the courts to help the guys out."
Now, it's a matter of exercise and patience. The Men's Tennis NCAA Championships are in May and Bowtell hopes to be swinging by then.
In a recent check-up, doctors said that his right foot is normal but the left needs more work. Once both feet pass medical muster, Bowtell will return to the courts.
"I've been doing rehab and exercises to regenerate the nerves, and it's definitely feeling better. I just need to keep working it a little bit longer. The guys are really helping me out with this and are helping me get better."
Close friend and junior LSU Tennis player, John Michaelis, was with Bowtell while he was in the hospital and watched his progress. Michaelis, who views Bowtell as a role model, is inspired by the drive and determination he has displayed.
"Not playing your senior year would depress or sadden most, but Mark has kept a positive attitude," said Michaelis. "He's at practice every day. He does his rehab at the courts. We see him putting in efforts with the team, and he's still a vocal leader cheering us on."
Bowtell may not have had the opportunity to battle a top-125 contender in his senior season, but he is battling adversity and currently in the lead. Coaches are considering red-shirting him for this year. If so, he would return in the 2012-2013 season for a second shot at the senior season he had dreamed of.