Desire, spirit of Thomas fuel her recovery A test of patience, will: Even though Stasia Thomas has come back from an accident that could have killed her, sometimes the progress isn't fast enough for her.

February 04, 1996|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Stasia Thomas doesn't remember getting hit by the car.

She does remember sitting in the road, aware that her leg was badly broken. She also remembers flying in the helicopter to Johns Hopkins Hospital, spending five painful days in the pediatric intensive care unit there -- and wanting desperately to recover in time for the basketball season.

"I think she thought she was going to recover in a week," said Roland Park teammate Elizabeth Ryan.

But Thomas' injuries were too extensive. The accident not only broke her shinbone but also broke her collarbone, cracked several ribs and battered just about every other part of her body.

Even now, 17 months later, some residual effects of the accident still disrupt her game, although not enough to keep her from playing varsity basketball as a freshman.

While Thomas always expected to make a full recovery, her friends and family were not so sure at first.

"I was surprised at how fast she did get better," said Ryan. "Now she's just like me. I can't even tell. But she's a strong person. Even in the wheelchair, she was shooting baskets."

Ryan did not see the accident; she heard it.

On her bike, Ryan had crossed Wyndhurst Avenue in Roland Park ahead of Thomas. Hurrying to catch up with her friend, Thomas pulled out from between two cars into the path of another.

She crashed into the windshield, rolled over the top of the car and sailed about 30 feet through the air. She was not wearing a helmet. Even though her head hit the windshield, her shoulder absorbed most of the impact.

"She was so lucky," said her father, Stephen Thomas. "If she hadn't hit the way she did, if she hadn't taken the blow with her shoulder, she probably wouldn't be with us."

But she went home in less than a week, back to school in two weeks and back on the basketball court in four months. Even at home, she couldn't stay still for long, spending hours in the basement exercise room.

"I worked out all the time. I was probably stronger in some places than I am now," said Thomas.

After playing the last two basketball games of her eighth-grade season, she returned full-time to lacrosse, but all those months in a cast had taken a toll.

"Lacrosse was really frustrating. I wasn't as fast as everyone," she said. "But I had had a lot of atrophy. When the cast came off, my leg was half the size of my other one. It didn't get back to normal until this year."

Field hockey season ran a little smoother, but with basketball season came some new problems. Sometimes she could not stop quickly enough and she traveled a lot. Then she sprained an ankle.

"My balance was totally thrown off," she said.

"Balance atrophies the same way muscles do," said Noey Fielder, a trainer from the Bennett Institute for Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation who works with Roland Park athletes.

"From being immobilized, her nerves have basically atrophied.. . . . With all the cutting and being up on your toes and changing direction, it's a challenge to your nerves to keep you upright."

As time goes by, the recovery process is becoming a challenge to Thomas' patience. While everyone around her seems to think she has made remarkable progress, Thomas can't help but feel it has been too slow.

"She really tries, but you can see she's frustrated," said Reds coach Mary Hain. "She comes across as being a really tough kid, as having an attitude, but it's her desire to always do well. She looks like she's mad, but she's not; she's just very intense. She wants to catch back up with the other kids her age."

If not for the accident, the AAU veteran probably would have started along with Ryan and two other Reds freshmen.

Instead, she has switched from forward to wing guard and plays only about four minutes a game. Still, she has made the best of them, averaging four points, 3.4 rebounds and an assist for the Reds (11-7).

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