Dylan Samuels a charming 14 year Old, who spent four years as a scholar playing in central midfield for the Manchester United Academy, is today battling a life threatening disease. Perched on his bed and enveloped by his family - parents Steve and Gail and little sister Natasha - Dylan sighs and glances around his surroundings.
He no longer takes up residence on the lush grass of United’s training ground but a secluded room on Ward 85 of this hospital. It is here that Dylan spent six months last year and has barely been home since the New Year. He was born with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic condition where mucus becomes thick and sticky, clogging up a sufferer’s lungs and digestive system. It is a life-shortening condition for which there is no cure.
Dylan fondly recalls his time as a player in the Man Utd academy, ‘You can’t put it into words what it’s like to play for the club you support.’ 'I played in central midfield. I loved watching Paul Scholes. He was only small too. He was just amazing, everything he did. I tried to play like him.’
He casts his mind back to one game against Liverpool when he was only 10 years old: ‘On the Saturday, I was told I was playing. All Saturday and Sunday morning I was focused on it. When you are watching on TV, you are sat there as a fan thinking "Come on, get into ‘em!"
Yet for much of his life, Dylan has defied the limitations of his condition. Dylan’s story is particularly extraordinary as not only has he battled this illness with fortitude but he also did so while emerging as one of the most sought-after young footballers of his generation in the North West. He trained with Manchester City, Liverpool and Bolton but he comes from a United family. Mike Glennie, co-ordinator of United's Academy, remembers Dylan as an amazing footballer who exceeded their expectations within the period he played for United Academy.
Dylan’s story is inspirational, but it has taken a sad twist: eighteen months have passed since Dylan last kicked a football. His lung capacity has deteriorated drastically. ‘It was at 109% when he was at his best at United and its kept dropping,’ Gail (his Mother) says. ‘On one recent reading, it was as low as 32%.’
Dylan is stuck in a cycle of treatments, medication and setbacks as his consultants strive to find a combination of drugs that work.
His Mother explains that every time Dylan seems to be getting stronger, every time they think he might be getting back to himself, it wipes him out again. And Dylan’s condition is worsening. That he is still here today is thanks only to a brutal drug regimen that begins at 5am and requires him to take up to 50 tablets a day, including enzymes to digest his food, three types of oral antibiotics, as well as intravenous antibiotics and nebulisers to try and loosen the mucus — ‘Some days he can’t handle that, or the physio that should follow, because he is too sick,’ says Gail.
Dylan's condition means that he has hardly returned home since the New Year and he needs constant care. A lung transplant may be a possibility. CF patients are considered for one when their lung capacity drops below 30 per cent. Dylan’s lung function is in the early 30s, leaving him at the cruellest juncture, where he is suffering terribly but not quite badly enough to qualify for a transplant.
His situation is deeply worrying, says Dr Panickar. ‘The lung function is deteriorating, and for it to drop so fast and so much at this age is extremely worrying for us.’
This remarkable family have a strong network of family and friends. It’s worth remembering, amidst all the headlines this sport creates, there are some wonderful people in football, too.
When Dylan’s former coaches at United learnt of the deterioration in his condition, they invited Steve to the training ground. Seven coaches sat down with him over a cup of tea reflecting on his boy with the bright smile and such enthusiasm for the game.
A foundation is to be established in Dylan’s name and is likely to be launched with a fundraising dinner later this year. 'Something About Dylan' will encourage donations to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the charity for which Steve has already raised close to £25,000, through a London-to-Paris bike ride, a three-peak challenge and two Tough Mudders. About 10,000 people in the UK suffer from CF, and half will not live to see their 40th birthday. His cystic fibrosis is particularly acute as he inherited different strains from his parents. His mother passed down the Delta F508 gene, which affects more than 75 per cent of CF patients in the UK. His father passed on a particularly rare mutation — the W1282X gene — which affects less than 1 per cent of patients.