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Taylor Burgess defies grim doctor's diagnosis

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By Jesef Williams

Taylor Burgess' body was so weak he had to crawl to get around his house.

A rare syndrome called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy is the reason why Burgess went from marching in the band to receiving all his schooling from home.

At one point, doctors told the Burgess' family to prepare for his funeral.

But thanks to proper medical care and a whole lot of prayer and determination, Burgess' syndrome went into remission. He returned to Buford High for his senior year and is now about to receive his high school diploma.

Problems arise

Burgess, now 18, broke his right ankle after stepping in a divot in summer 2005. About five months later, he came down hard on the same ankle during a basketball game.

At first, the severe pain was believed to be the effects of a bad sprain, but that pain never subsided.

"It felt like something was stabbing me – the most incredible pain you can feel," Burgess said.

The following February, he was diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, or RSD, a condition in which the immune system believes the body's nerves are bacteria and tries to kill them.

Many people with RSD are born with the condition, but its effects usually never show until that person fractures a bone. Without treatment, the pain will spread and can result in death.

Burgess' pain started in his right ankle and traveled through his leg to his lower back. He looked normal, but was weak.

Based on lab results, his original doctors gave Burgess just six months to live, as it was believed the ailment would take over his whole body.

"They told my parents they should be preparing for a funeral," Burgess said. "I didn't know what to think. I wasn't ready to die."

Road to recovery

Burgess had attended Buford schools since the eighth grade but moved to Ware Shoals before the 10th grade because his father took a pastor's position there.

Burgess was homebound for the second half of his sophomore year and his entire junior year. For a while, he used a wheelchair and often had to crawl on the floor to get around the house.

When Burgess became ill, the family moved back to Lancaster County to be closer to physicians at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Burgess was later referred to a neurologist in Columbia, who has helped his condition go into remission.

His father, Brian Burgess, said his son's recovery is nothing short of a miracle.

"I had to lean on the faith I was called to proclaim," he said. "To see him today, when we weren't sure if he would see 17 – we're really proud of what he's overcome."

Back to school... and the drums

Burgess said one of the biggest drawbacks of being homebound was that he couldn't see his peers every day. He still experiences soreness from time to time, but not so bad that he couldn't return to school for his senior year.

He has to be careful about his physical activity because any bone fracture can cause the RSD to resurface. He takes medications daily.

Luckily, Burgess was able to participate in marching band this year – he was this year's percussion captain.

"There was no way they were going to hold me off the field," said Burgess, who was recognized as the top band player at Buford High this year. "It was a great feeling to be back."

Jamie Ellis, Burgess' best friend and fellow percussionist, was happy to see him return. He's been an inspiration on and off the marching field, Ellis said.

"He's taught me that you can do anything if you put your mind to it,' he said.

Burgess, who mainly plays snare, will attend Winthrop University in the fall, where he will major in music education. He wants to be a school band director. He would also love the chance to play in a rock band.

"I just love drums," Burgess said. "Music is the way of life."

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152