Wrestlers are used to battling.

They do it on the mat during matches and practice. They do it off the mat in the weight room while trying to get stronger. They even do it throughout the day in trying to maintain their weight.

No wrestler, though, is in a bigger battle than Panther Valley's Richard Nase. And his fight isn't against another competitor or having to drop a few pounds.

The battle he faces is one of health and survival.

Nase, the Panthers' talented 182-pounder, is currently in St. Christopher's Children's Hospital in Philadelphia. The sophomore, who has registered an 18-9 record this season and placed third at the Schuylkill League Tournament, was recently diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, a very rare (about 300 cases diagnosed a year in the U.S.) but serious skin condition.

Not long ago, it was determined that the sophomore had MRSA an infection that is common in the wrestling circle. After being given medicine and told to refrain from the sport for 10 days, the PV student started developing a different rash.

A trip to the hospital revealed he was cleared from MRSA and that he needed to take a different prescription for his new rash. When he told his wrestling coach (Tim Robb) that his condition had become worse and couldn't make practice, Robb told him to go to the emergency room immediately. He was kept overnight and put on an IV.

Nase, who also plays football at PV, was told he was having an allergic reaction to the antibiotics he was given and was being sent to St. Luke's in Bethlehem. It was there they proposed he may have Stevens-Johnson Syndrome. It was also there where his health went downhill. He started getting blisters and his lips became swollen. He was also having trouble breathing and swallowing.

The rest of the Panther Valley wrestling squad was planning to visit their teammate this past Friday, but Robb received notice that Nase was going to be moved again this time to St. Christopher's.

With painful blisters now covering approximately 80 percent of his body, a plastic surgeon performed a procedure this past weekend in which his blisters were opened and then covered with a skin-like substance to avoid infection.

"Wrestling is almost secondary to us now," said Robb, who was able to take the team to Philly on Saturday, only to get there during one of the times Nase was put into an unconscious state. "The kids have really come together. It's all about helping Richard and his family now.

"He's such an athlete and a talented wrestler. He's good in the practice-room. He's a bigger guy but he's so athletic he helps out (John) Horvath (195/220) and (Rian) Shubeck (220/285). He has great balance and is very coachable. He loves wrestling and is like a sponge when you teach him something. This has definitely hurt our team emotionally."

The good news is that doctors have said his condition hasn't gotten any worse. But there are always concerns that the syndrome could do damage to vital organs. With no real cure, doctors treat everything step by step with the hope that no infection occurs.

While the chances for recovery are good, the time frame for such a recovery is one to two months after he starts improving.

As word of Nase's condition has spread, the Panther Valley family is springing into action to support him and his family.

The Panther Valley Football Parents' Club is setting up a fund to help cover some of the financial burdens the Nase's will be facing over the next few months. Any money raised will go toward defraying the costs of travel expenses, time off from work for family members, care not covered by insurance, assistance for younger siblings, etc.

"He's just a great kid," said PV assistant football coach Paul McArdle. "They don't come much better than him. He's so positive and upbeat, and that's infectious. He's one of those kids you just can't help but like.

"(Head coach) Lon (Hazlet) and I both think he could be a Division I player. He might have been our best defensive player this past season. He's got the size, skill and attitude to go far ... It tears you apart to think about what he's going through right now."

A spaghetti dinner to benefit the family is in the works for March 4, and there are also plans for a "Panther Valley Wrestling for Richard" t-shirt sale. Dress down days at the school and a card shower might also be held.

"He is a great athlete," said Coach Robb. "He is very popular with the entire school, and he is going to be inspired when he sees how many people are behind him for this battle."

"Say what you want about the changes that occur around here, but this area always responds when someone is in need," said McArdle. "Whether it's in the sports community or the general community people respond. It's a tight-knit community."

Donations can be sent to:

Panther Valley Football Parents' Club; c/o Richard Nase Recovery; PO Box 12, Lansford, PA 18232