GREENSBORO, N.C. – Karson Cross’s parents will always remember June 13, 2016 – the day incoming freshman their son collapsed at pre-season football conditioning at Page High School. A day later – the 14-year-old died.
It was a tragedy full of questions – was it the workout? Was it the heat? Was it dehydration?
Almost one year later - his parents are sharing the details including a condition that played a role in his death. It’s called Sickle Cell Trait. To be clear, it’s not the disease, it just a gene some people carry. And the Cross family was always told – it was no big deal, thousands of people have it – and it’s rare for anything to happen because of it.
But last year – Karson Cross was the rare exception. He was an incoming Page High School freshman, and the only child to Kerry and Gretchen. They say he was funny, kind and athletic. They were his biggest supporters.
“We never missed anything – games, practices – but [that day] it was high school, and he didn’t want momma and daddy there,” said Kerry Cross.
So, the couple hid in the stands to watch him. But on that first day of conditioning for the football team – Karson collapsed in his coach’s arms.
“Initially we were thinking it was heat kind of event, but we weren’t sure,” said Kerry Cross.
After he was rushed to the emergency room, his father - a paramedic, realized something.
“It just kind of struck me…and I told them, well I don’t know if it means anything but he has sickle cell trait. And they said – absolutely it means something,” he said.
“Their jaws dropped and they looked at us like – that means everything,” said Gretchen Cross.
What they had been told was not a big deal changed their lives. To deal with the grief – Kerry Cross dove into researching sickle cell trait. Per doctors and extensive research, he found the conditions that day: the exercise, the heat, a recent illness, but especially combined with sickle cell trait, likely lead to Karson’s death.
“We were kind of in a fog, a kind of dream world – thinking there’s just no way we lost our 14-year-old,” said Kerry.
They say in this past year - grief has come in waves. But love and support have come in all forms – from friends, family, people who barely knew them – but knew their son, and how wonderful he was.
In his memory, the couple dedicated a bench on the corner of Wendover and Cridland in Greensboro, along with a garden.
Gretchen Cross’s favorite photo? A collage between two pictures: one of her son, and another of her husband.
“They both have thumbs up – this is after he died…and it gets me every time, because Kerry is thumbs up there – [and it says] we’ll take it from here, love you, proud of you.”