Wrestling Coach Mike Powell

Mike Powell was a champion wrestler at Oak Park and River Forest High School. He came back to the school as head wrestling coach and built the struggling team into a statewide powerhouse. But now, personally, he's facing the toughest match of his life. Powell was diagnosed with polymyositis.

Chicago Tonight spoke with Dr. John Robinson, Interim Director of Rheumatology and Professor of Medicine and Microbiology at Loyola University Medical Center, to learn more about the disease. Excerpts:

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What is polymyositis?

It’s an inflammatory disease of the muscles. It’s an autoimmune disease caused by patients’ own immune cells, lymphocytes, attacking their own muscle fibers, and killing them or making them necrotic.

How do you get it? Is it genetic?

It’s partially genetic, as all autoimmune diseases are. But polymyositis has not been shown to have a strong genetic component. Nobody knows the causes. There is some seasonality to it, where it may occur more often in the spring or fall. We are unsure about the triggers as to what causes it. There may be a virus present in the spring or fall that could be a trigger.

What are the symptoms?

You are going to lose muscle function and that will be manifested by progressive weakness, like trouble climbing stairs, trouble trying to brush your hair or brush your teeth. Usually, people notice things like they have trouble getting out of a chair or off a toilet seat. It becomes an effort.

How is it diagnosed?

We do tests of muscle strength. We test the upper and lower extremity strength, and it will be pretty dramatically weakened. After the physical findings, we draw blood on the patient and there’s a certain muscle enzyme that will be elevated. Then, you do a biopsy of the muscle and you can actually see the lymphocytes attacking the muscle fibers.

How is the disease treated?

There’s a lot being discovered about the disease at this time. As a general rule, it is a controllable disease. It’s treated with corticosteroids, which are steroid hormones, and almost always, you add one drug with that so you don’t have to keep the patient on steroids for that long amount of time. The drug prevents the lymphocytes from attacking the muscle fibers. Then the muscles can regenerate with physical therapy.

In general, most patients will respond pretty well to medications. As a rule, it’s unusual for them to end up in a wheelchair. They usually will regain strength and do physical therapy. Unless they have a side effect of the medication, a vast majority can do well.

There’s a small percentage of these patients where the polymyositis is connected to the presence of malignancy. Once it’s diagnosed, further testing is done to rule out malignancy, especially in patients over age 50.

Watch Chicago Tonight at 7:00 pm to learn more about Mike Powell and his struggles.

The following video of former OPRF wrestler Ellis Coleman's "Flying Squirrel" Takedown went viral on YouTube. Coleman will wrestle on the U.S. Olympic Team this summer. 

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