West Potomac Senior Had to Overcome More Than Injury

At left, Ritchie Math, on crutches, talks with teammate Jimmy Arrington during a West Potomac game last fall. Arrington's mom, Sue Harris, right, looks on as surgeon George C. Branche III talks to Math.
At left, Ritchie Math, on crutches, talks with teammate Jimmy Arrington during a West Potomac game last fall. Arrington's mom, Sue Harris, right, looks on as surgeon George C. Branche III talks to Math. (Toni L. Sandys/twp - Twp)

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By Liam Dillon
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 25, 2006

The noise that West Potomac senior Ritchie Math heard last summer when his cleats stuck in the ground during a camp for high school football players at James Madison University resounds to this day.

"As soon as I heard the crack I just grabbed my knee and thought about what was going to happen," he said.

The anterior cruciate ligament in Math's right knee was torn, and damage had been done, too, to his chances to play college football. Worse were the circumstances in which he found himself.

Math's mother, a Cambodian immigrant, had died in September 2004 after a lengthy bout with stomach cancer. His father wasn't in the picture. So Math's 22-year-old sister, Sinath, who quit Marymount University after her mother died, became Ritchie's legal guardian. Sinath supported the family, which also includes sister Chan, a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, by working as a receptionist at a local hardwood floor company.

Ritchie's medical insurance, Medicaid, a state-administered insurance program for low-income families, left him with few options in choosing doctors to care for his injured knee.

In the month following the injury, Ritchie, a 6-foot, 225-pound linebacker/tight end, and Sinath bounced from doctor to doctor in an effort to find one who would accept Medicaid and adequately diagnose Ritchie's condition. At one point, they even went to a hospital emergency room because they knew there they were guaranteed care. An MRI was finally performed. An initial reading of the results showed no ACL damage, and Ritchie believed he would be able to play football this past season.

A further analysis -- done on the day before football camp was to begin at West Potomac -- showed a full tear. The two-year starter and team captain, who had received letters of interest from such schools as Syracuse and Georgia Tech, was out for the season.

Misunderstandings and mistakes characterized Ritchie's recovery. That included uncertainty over how much supplementary insurance James Madison would provide (eventually the Maths learned the university's policy would pay up to $25,000), physical therapy appointments cancelled eight weeks before his prescription had been fulfilled and lengthy stays in waiting rooms where others with different insurance plans were seen much quicker.

Hovering over all this were questions about whether Ritchie would receive adequate medical care and how much it would cost.

"It upsets me but everybody tells me that things happen for a reason so you can't really change nothing," Ritchie said during his recovery. "I can't really do nothing. I have a black cloud over my head and it just won't go away."

Some help arrived in the form of West Potomac football coach Eric Henderson, Arlington-based orthopedic surgeon George C. Branche III and Sue Harris, the mother of Jimmy Arrington, an offensive lineman for West Potomac and one of Ritchie's best friends.

Henderson introduced Ritchie to Branche, who had treated Henderson in the past. Upon hearing Ritchie's story, Branche agreed to perform the surgery for a cost far less than his overhead and assisted Ritchie in finding a physical therapist and appropriate knee braces.


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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