When a high-five from a teammate left his pinkie broken and dangling, David Thompson had no idea his kidneys were to blame.
But no matter how many times he broke bones or was told he would never play baseball again, he never gave up on his dream.
“Anytime a doctor would tell me, ‘As long as you never play baseball again, you’ll be healthy,’ it was like, ‘OK, next doctor,’ ” said Thompson, a former pitcher on Southwest Ranches Archbishop McCarthy’s 2011 and 2012 state championship teams — not the more well known, hard-hitting University of Miami infielder with the same name.
“There was never a thought in my mind that I wasn’t going to live my dream of playing college baseball.”
Seven years later, the Make-A-Wish kid from Pembroke Pines has exceeded everyone’s expectations.
He has gone from breaking his back three times and using a back brace just to get on the mound in high school to throwing 92 mph as the ace on his Division II college team at Anderson University (South Carolina) — all while continuing to battle a life-threatening illness.
This summer, Thompson, who turns 21 on July 25, pitched for the Glens Falls Dragons of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League in New York. He hasn’t been ill in more than two years.
“When the Make-A-Wish people came to us in the spring of 2010, we were at a place where all I was doing was dragging David to doctors, driving him to rehab,” said his mother, Kay Thompson. “He was picking himself up to get squished down again.
“He’d been out of the game for two years, and life was sort of passing him by. His old teammates, who he was just as good as, were all stars in high school. It was the first time in his life I found out David didn’t suffer from excessive happiness, which is what his elementary school teachers used to tell me. It was a little heartbreaking.”
After going through nearly a dozen doctors in South Florida in 18 months, a family friend and donor to UM’s medical school got David an appointment with Dr. Gaston Zilleruelo and Dr. Gary Kleiner. Their diagnosis: David had a metabolic kidney disease and Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), which affects about one in 50,000 people.
Basically, David’s kidneys were leaking valuable nutrients his body needed to keep his bones strong and healthy. The CVID made him more susceptible to illnesses, which is why when he got the flu two years ago it quickly turned into pneumonia.
For years, flu shots and other vaccines for asthma prescribed by David’s pulmonologist got him by without anyone knowing he had CVID.
But the summer after eighth grade, when David broke his pinkie high-fiving a teammate on Broward’s Elite Black travel team, it was the first sign his kidneys weren’t working properly.
A couple of months later, as a freshman at Pembroke Pines Flanagan, David fractured his spine while swinging a bat. It happened two more times after that, and then his throwing elbow gave out.
That’s when Kay took him to see Zilleruelo and Kleiner, who found the right medication to help David and then put his family in touch with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
After David began taking medication to regulate his kidneys and in turn strengthen his bones, the Make-A-Wish Foundation granted his request, sending him to Los Angeles to work for three days with famed pitching coach Tom House, an assistant at Southern California, in August 2010.
House, who was portrayed by Bill Paxton in the 2014 Disney film Million Dollar Arm, told ESPN at the time he thought he was getting a dying kid “who was probably just going to go through the motions and wanted to see something before they passed on.”
But that wasn’t who showed up.
“He told me he thought I had the potential to throw 90 [mph],” David said. “When Tom House tells you that, it’s a light bulb in your head that you need to work.”
Thompson returned home, transferred to McCarthy from Flanagan and took the mound with a back brace. He used it for a year before he was healthy enough to pitch without it as a senior.
“What I remember about David was there were no bad days,” said Rich Bielski, who has coached seven state-championship teams and mentored Thompson at McCarthy. “Every day on the field was special. He made sure everyone on our team knew that.”
Thompson pitched just 20 innings combined his junior and senior years and gave up only one run.
His most noteworthy accomplishment was tossing one inning of relief in the first no-hitter in Marlins Park history, a game in which five pitchers combined to beat Key West 7-0, a week after the stadium opened in April 2012.
Thompson, though, did enough to get Anderson University to offer a partial baseball scholarship.
After his freshman season at Anderson in which he barely pitched, the tall, skinny kid in high school who barely hit 80 mph on the radar gun, took what House taught him and expanded on it during a six-week course in Louisiana with Brent Pourciau, a biomechanical analyst who now works with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
After returning home from Pourciau’s Top Velocity camp, Thompson hit 90 mph after his freshman year of college. Then 91 and 92 mph.
A few months later, Thompson made his first college start, pitching six innings of one-run ball against Nova Southeastern. Three of his seven strikeouts that night were against recent Marlins 25th-round draft pick Alex Fernandez, his former teammate at McCarthy.
“After everything I went through, that was such an ‘I did it, I made it’ moment,” David said of hitting 92 mph on the gun and becoming a starting pitcher in college. “Make-A-Wish really helped me gain the confidence to get through. That’s pretty much my story.”
Bob Press, an Aventura resident, businessman and member of the Make-A-Wish Board of Directors who backed David’s trip to see House, still maintains a relationship with David and gives him words of encouragement.
Odds are Thompson (6-7, 5.40 ERA in 29 college games) won’t pitch beyond his upcoming senior season at Anderson.
If it is the end of his pitching career, Thompson will not be disappointed. He still has a very good shot at his other dream — becoming a lawyer.
“David always had the drive and desire, a relentless pursuit of success,” Bielski said. “When someone has that, there’s no ceiling on what they can do.”