DuBose returns to Va. Tech for first time since surgery

Ex-Hokie basketball player says she is doing just fine


October 20, 2002|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

BLACKSBURG, Va. - If Rayna DuBose had sworn to never visit the Virginia Tech campus again, the whole world would have understood.

After all, it was here that meningococcal meningitis robbed her of so much. It was here that a promising college basketball career turned into a nightmare. It was here, in April, that she slipped into a coma after lifting weights one day with the Hokies women's basketball team, and nearly lost her life.

When DuBose woke up in the University of Virginia Medical Center three weeks later, doctors told her the infection, which caused swelling in her brain and spinal cord, had caused so much tissue damage, they needed to amputate her hands and feet. Despite suffering near total organ failure, she would live. But in an instant, her whole life had changed.

So yesterday, when she returned to campus for the first time since she was hospitalized, it was nothing short of moving. DuBose, a Columbia resident and four-year star at Oakland Mills High School from 1997 to 2001, watched basketball practice, hung out with her teammates, and attended the Hokies' homecoming football game against Rutgers, a 35-14 win. Simply put, she got to act like a college student again.

At a news conference with her parents, Willie and Andrea, DuBose vowed to return to Virginia Tech as a student, perhaps as soon as next summer. And from her wheelchair, dressed in a hooded blue Nike sweat shirt, DuBose smiled repeatedly for the sea of cameras, and said she intends to walk and even play basketball again someday.

"I don't think my goals have really changed," said DuBose, who will be featured on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel in late November. "I still want to go to school and graduate. I still want to play basketball. ... I know so many people were wondering about me, wanting to know if I was OK. I wanted to come here and let them know I am."

Virginia Tech wanted DuBose to come back, too, if for no other reason than to see her memorable smile once again.

In the months since her amputations, DuBose has been fitted with prostheses for her arms and legs and begun to attend therapy. She has had to relearn how to feed herself, dress herself and even talk on the phone. The entire Hokies athletic community had been shaken by what happened, and so seeing DuBose on campus again was cathartic for everyone.

"What happened with Rayna was the most trying experience of my life," Virginia Tech women's basketball coach Bonnie Hendrickson said.

"Having her back is part of the healing process for all of us."

With DuBose's medical bills expected to be "in the millions" according to the family, Virginia Tech is doing its part to contribute financially as well. The university has already raised more than $50,000, and an anonymous donor has promised to match that total with an additional $50,000.

Yesterday more than 50 student-athletes and friends stood throughout Lane Stadium in T-shirts adorned with DuBose's basketball number, 15, and asked for donations to the Virginia Tech Monogram Club, which has set up a fund to assist the family.

"It's a really good feeling to know that a lot of people care," DuBose said.

DuBose's parents are up front about the fact that, when their daughter got sick, doctors tried to prepare them for the very real possibility that she might not make it. That DuBose made it is a small miracle.

"In addition to being in a coma for three weeks, she had a heart attack, her lungs collapsed, and she had liver failure and kidney failure," Willie DuBose said.

"For a while, it was all going downhill. We also didn't know if she would have brain damage or not when she woke up because the infection causes swelling around the spine and the brain. We didn't know if she would even recognize us."

Even when DuBose did regain consciousness, and began to interact with her family, doctors told them she would most likely need kidney dialysis treatments for the rest of her life. But as DuBose got stronger, her kidneys did, too.

"One doctor told me, `If I was a betting man, I would have bet my house that she would need a dialysis machine for the rest of her life,' " Andrea DuBose said. "He said, `It was the best bet I ever got wrong.' "

Already, thanks to therapy two days a week, DuBose can sit up and stand with support. Eventually, she'll be fitted with myoelectric prostheses, which will be attached to the nerve endings in her arms and will allow her to grip and pick up objects. For now though, she is focused on walking again.

"The doctors say it really helps that I'm athletic and that my balance has gotten better already," DuBose said. "Really, things haven't been that bad."

Of all the powerful moments yesterday, one stood out. At the end of the first quarter during the football game, Hendrickson drove DuBose and her parents onto the field in a golf cart to receive a football from Hokies coach Frank Beamer.

As every football player and coach and nearly all of the 64,907 fans got to their feet and cheered, DuBose braced herself on the golf cart, and rose. DuBose eventually sat down, but the cheering continued to echo through Lane Stadium for some time.

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