May 19—Correction

This story has been corrected and updated.

ENID, Okla. — When the Plainsmen opened practice on Monday at D. Bruce Selby Stadium, it marked the first time junior offensive lineman Blake Allen had been on the field for two seasons.

But for a long time, Allen and his family had no idea what was taking Blake off the field.

After his freshman season, Blake's father, former Enid and University of Missouri offensive lineman Reagan Allen, came down with what they suspect was COVID.

Reagan is also a coach at the school and coaches the offensive line. He has been at Enid High for five years.

Later Blake also got it.

After getting over COVID, Blake began complaining of pain in his abdominal region.

"It kept getting worse and worse," said Reagan. "It seemed to go away a little, but in December, but then it got worse. By February, it was even worse and by March, COVID happened and they shut down school."

The family thought Blake had IBS or diverticulitis, so they went and got a colonoscopy, endoscopy and biopsy done.

Everything came back normal, including blood tests, Reagan said.

From there, the family went to Oklahoma Children' Hospital in Oklahoma City.

The answer there was the same — doctors could not find out what was wrong.

In January 2022, the Allen family was able to be seen at the Mayo Clinic.

After four days there, the family still had no answers, as doctors still couldn't figure out what was sidelining Blake.

"He did every test known to man," said Reagan,

Finally the family found a doctor in California and began working with him.

"He had some good luck with people with long COVID," Reagan said. "The medicines and things he (Blake) was taking just weren't getting him here."

In the summer of 2022, the family found the Children's Hospital of Cincinnati. The hospital told the Allen family the first available opening was October of that year. Except the family was already there.

"My wife's family lives in Ohio, and we happened to be there," Reagan said. "They called us while we were there and had an opening."

That opening would prove to be the first step to relief and a return to the field for Blake.

He stayed an extra week to go to the hospital and meet with the pediatric pain doctors.

"They were the first ones who knew exactly what it was," Reagan said. "They said it was visceral hyperalgesia."

Visceral hyperalgesia is a hyper-inflammation and sensitivity of the nerves in the abdominal region. It is caused by COVID and does not allow the brain and abdominal region to connect via the vagus nerve.

"His abdominal region, because it was so hyper-sensitive, was (sending) pain signals back to his brain," Reagan said. "It felt like he had pain 24 hours a day in his abdominal region."

The pain was so severe in his sophomore year, that he missed almost every day, Reagan said.

"He was so out of it, he couldn't even go to school," Reagan said.

In November, the family went back to Cincinnati.

They offered Blake a device for his ear, like a hearing aid with tentacles hanging off and needles in his vagus nerve and other nerve points.

Blake contracted COVID again in February and everything began to hurt again. He got the device in March, after returning to school.

For the first two weeks with the device in, Blake couldn't tell there was a change. After the fourth week, the pain was gone, said Blake.

"He's been well ever since," Reagan said. "It was a terrible ordeal. He missed his entire sophomore year and some of his junior year, but he powered through it."

Missing everything — including summer workouts and practices — caused Blake to develop depression and anxiety, he said.

"I was at home alone all the time," he said. "That type of stuff really hurt."

Blake began to question if he would play football again, or even go to school like normal, he said.

"I was wondering if I would ever get better," he said. "My mentality and thinking was will I ever get better, play football again or even go back to school."

He came home from the Mayo Clinic and said to his mom, Liz, "Is this my life? Is this what I'm going to have to deal with the rest of my life?"

The return to practice for Blake was a relief.

"Monday was great," he said. "I was finally able to come back out for the first time in two and a half years and put on some pads and go play football with my friends."

"It's unbelievable to see him out here," Reagan said. " I missed seeing out here and coaching him."

Becker is sports editor for the Enid News & Eagle.

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