South Medford lineman back on the field after kidney disease diagnosis

MEDFORD, Ore. – Makani Manuwai didn’t make the varsity team for the Panthers at the start of his freshman year, but late in the season, he earned his spot.

Little did he know he had a far tougher road ahead.

“Last year we were 2-8 and I was the cameraman,” Manuwai said. “And right now it just feels great to play and help my team win.”

From cameraman to the leading tackler on the team.

17-year-old Manuwai primarily plays on the defensive line for South Medford High School.

As a freshman, he didn’t make the varsity team.

But through hard work and a few injuries, he became a starter on the team by the end of the year.

But, last summer his life would take a dramatic turn.

“I saw where I was suppose to run too, which was a stop sign, and right before I reached it, I tripped and I remember rolling over and touching the stop sign, and that was the last thing I remember before I passed out,” he said.

Doctors originally diagnosed it as a heat stroke.

He was in the hospital for a week and couldn’t eat or drink the whole time.

He spent the majority of the summer in his bedroom, trying to stay out of the heat.

“I had to stay cool and we really didn’t have ac so I was just in my room with a bunch of fans on me and I had to drink 8 liters a day,” Manuwai said.

Manuwai was forced to sit out the entire 2021 season.

It wasn’t until July, that he was diagnosed with stage 2 chronic kidney disease.

After months of battling, he thought his football career was over.

“There was a lot of times when they said you’re clear for very moderate activity like once a year ago in November and then two weeks later they said no more,” he said. “In January, I thought I was done in general like they said your function isn’t going to go back up so this might just be permanent.”

But he’s worked his way back, helping lead his team to a 6-3 record this season, now they’re headed to the playoffs.

Although some days are more difficult than others, Manuwai said he knows his limits now.

“I just have to read my signs,” he said. “If I feel like something’s wrong then I’m going to say it. I can’t be toughing stuff out because it’s how I got in this situation the first place.”

He also told me as he continues to get better, his role could expand, playing some snaps on the offensive line.

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NBC5 News reporter Zachary Larsen grew up in Surprise, Arizona. He graduated from Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. At ASU, Zack interned at Arizona Sports 98.7FM and Softball America. During his Junior year, Zack joined the ASU Sports Bureau. He covered the Fiesta Bowl, the Phoenix Open and major basketball tournaments. Zack enjoys working out, creative writing, music, and rooting for his ASU Sun Devils.
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