Shea overcomes Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome in the Pool

By Jeff Kolb. 

9-year-old Shea has discovered that swimming reduces his EDS pain. Aquatic activity is one of the best exercises for those with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome.

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BRISTOL, R.I. –Shea Sargent is only 9-years old, but he’s already one of the best young swimmers in the country.

“It’s fun I guess because I’m so fast at it,” said Sargent, who lives in Middletown, RI.

But last summer Shea began to feel and walk funny. His mother, Natalie, took him to several different doctors but every appointment ended with the prognosis that Shea was just fine.

Natalie Sargent knew something wasn’t right, though.

“(I felt) extreme helpless,” said Natalie Sargent. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Finally she took Shea to a geneticist at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. There he was diagnosed with 10 minutes as having Ehlers-Danlos syndrome or EDS.

“On a 1 to 10 scale it’s like a seven,” said Shea of the pain the EDS causes him.

One silver-lining to the condition for Shea is that it gives him hyper-flexibility. He can twist and turn in ways most of us couldn’t imagine, which gives him an advantage in the pool.

“Having that mobility in the shoulder, I think it helps him with his butterfly catch,” said Colin Fisher, an associate head coach with Kingfish swimming, Shea’s swim team.

Miraculously, the only place Shea doesn’t feel pain is in the water. Since being diagnosed with EDS, Sargent has the fastest 100 backstroke time for his age in all of New England. In addition to that, this past April he placed second all-around at the 2015 Boys & Girls Club National Swimming Championships for the 8 & under male division.

“The accomplishments in swimming, through the year of all the things he went through, I just think it’s amazing,” said Natalie Sargent.

“By the time he’s 16, 17-years old, he could have a much bigger name for himself,” said Fisher.

Sargent hopes to someday swim in college for Rogers Williams University.

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Swimming with EDS is often beneficial.  It needs to be tailored to the individual, and care must be taken to avoid hyperextension or too much stress on joints.  

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