Pavlik: Allergic reaction had me close to death
Kelly Pavlik’s life was in peril.
An allergic reaction to medication had caused the middleweight champion’s temperature to soar past 104 degrees, and his heart rate to 150 beats a minute. When he was finally admitted to the hospital, the sweat was pouring off his body, which had turned shades of red and purple.
An infectious diseases specialist at the Cleveland Clinic told his father, Mike Pavlik, that the 27-year-old fighter had better keep fighting. The outlook was grim.
“I’m not a medical man,” Mike Pavlik said, “but he was really close to the edge that day.”
What began as a small staph infection on the knuckle of his left hand, where Pavlik had received a cortisone injection, had somehow spiraled to this: A strapping young man who makes his living relentlessly pushing his body to the extreme was bedridden, his wife Samantha keeping vigil over him while doctors figured out what went wrong.
Pavlik says he doesn’t remember everything that happened last month, only bits and pieces.
He recalls a doctor telling him that he wasn’t going home right away, and that every step he took toward the emergency ward was more difficult than the last. He remembers his skin crawling, his heart feeling like it would jump right out of his chest.
He doesn’t remember the steroids doctors gave him to make the reaction subside.
“I don’t remember that day, that’s how bad it was,” Pavlik told The Associated Press. “They told me it was pretty serious. It was the worst form of reaction you could have.”
It was also the lowest point in a summer of misfortune.
The staph infection appeared after Pavlik defeated Marco Antonio Rubio, a tough but woefully overmatched opponent, before an admiring crowd in Pavlik’s hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
He was playing basketball on a warm March day when the knuckle split open. After a few minutes, Pavlik looked down to see a colorless ooze where there should have been blood, and a trip to the doctor confirmed the bacteria.
A month went by and antibiotics weren’t doing their job, so Pavlik had surgery in Youngstown to clean out the infection. When the stitches were removed, the hole was still there. Further tests revealed MRSA, a sometimes fatal strain of staph that resists broad-spectrum antibiotics.
“I was ready to say right there, chop the hand off,” Pavlik said.
In the meantime, months of tough negotiations had resulted in an agreement between Pavlik and feared puncher Paul Williams. They would meet in early October in Atlantic City, with Pavlik guaranteed millions and both getting the HBO exposure every fighter covets.
The staph infection still wasn’t getting better, though, and the fight was pushed back to Dec. 5. Williams and his promoter, Dan Goossen, were willing to work with Pavlik after seeing optimistic test results from the clinic. Doctors believed the infection would clear up and Pavlik could begin punching in mid-October, giving him time to prepare for the fight.
Then came the allergic reaction and trip to the hospital, just before Pavlik was supposed to leave for New Jersey and a news conference to officially announce the fight.
“We learned our lesson once already when he went into a fight not feeling well,” Mike Pavlik said, referring to his son’s loss to Bernard Hopkins, when he became ill a couple days before the bout. “And we vowed we wouldn’t do it again.”
Still, Pavlik said he felt obligated to go through with the Williams fight. People were counting on him, and he was told by doctors that he’d be fine, even if he wasn’t so sure.
“Since I started training, it was in my mind the whole time,” Pavlik said. “It feels stiff, I ain’t able to hit anything. I think my trainer was waiting for the moment when it just closes, but there was just no way to do it.”
The infection had cleared up, but the surgeries were keeping Pavlik from closing his left hand. On Wednesday, trainer Jack Loew finally called off the fight.
Losing out on a big payday, the hospital trips, the allergic reaction — all of it was frustrating. What bothers Pavlik the most, though, is that some fans don’t believe any of it.
There are rumors he doesn’t want to fight Williams, or fight at all. That he’s holding out for more money, or to take Jermain Taylor’s place in the Super Six tournament. Those who once called him a working-class hope have turned their backs, which happens quickly and easily when you carry a small town on your broad shoulders.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” Pavlik said. “I’ll sleep, eat well at night. I know the truth. But my dad, the guys in camp who now what’s going on, it’s hard on them.”
Williams will face another opponent on Dec. 5, and Pavlik hopes he’ll be able to fight him early next year — “I’ll be nervous on the fifth,” he said.
Until then, the middleweight champion is left to ponder his summer of misfortune.
“I want to fight, and people question because I’ve been inactive, but there’s goals I want to accomplish,” he said. “It does feel like wasted time, where I could be out accomplishing a lot. And one big fight could sum up that big accomplishment.”