`A Day of Rejoicing'

From an illness that threatened her life, Rayna DuBose snatched victory - and became a champion of her own independence.

May 31, 2004|By Kevin Van Valkenburg

Each day, each hour, Willie and Andrea DuBose think things can't get any worse. And then they do.

Their daughter, Rayna, a graceful athlete, a college basketball player with a radiant smile, an 18-year-old who a week ago had so many possibilities in front of her, is lying in a hospital bed in a coma. For two days, doctors have warned her parents to prepare themselves: She may not live.

She came to the University of Virginia Medical Center in the belly of a helicopter, with her blood pressure dropping and her body convulsing. Her parents had raced south from their home in Columbia, Md., to meet her here in Charlottesville, Va., while her Virginia Tech basketball coach, Bonnie Henrickson, raced north from Blacksburg, wondering how she could have possibly missed the warning signs. Rayna had been sick for a few days, dehydrated, exhausted and irritable, but it didn't seem like anything serious. By the time she was diagnosed with meningococcal meningitis, a bacterial strain that affects 3,000 people in the United States each year, it looked as if it might already be too late to save her.

Doctors initially gave her an experimental drug called Protein C to fight the infection. But her medical records show they stopped the drug shortly afterward for fear it was causing internal bleeding.

Since her arrival at the hospital around 5:15 a.m. on Wednesday, April 3, 2002, her parents have clung to their faith. They've begged her to keep fighting. But every moment of calm is followed by chaos.

On Thursday, she suffers a heart attack.

Next, her lungs collapse.

Then word comes that, along with her kidneys, her liver is failing.

Doctors are working frantically, trying to save her. In the waiting room, her parents feel helpless. The only thing they can do is pray.

* * *

She could be so beautiful with a basketball in her hands.

Her freshman year at Tech, Rayna rarely played for extended stretches. She was frustrated, sick of all the running in practice, tired of being yelled at. She even told her best friend she wished she could quit. But there were nights when all the work seemed worth it.

In January 2002, in the Women's National Invitation Tournament, she had come off the bench toward the end of a lopsided contest against Vermont, and for 10 minutes, she recaptured the grace, the poetry and the muscle that had been missing from her game since high school. She ran the floor, caught passes in traffic, yanked down rebounds, and calmly nailed fast-break jumpers.

With just a sliver of playing time, she scored 13 points, and with every basket, the girls on the bench, the teammates who adored her sense of humor, squealed with joy. Even Bonnie, who had barked at Rayna all season, couldn't resist a smile. She ran the court so hard, with such determination, the muscles in her foot started to cramp. When she was fouled trying to score one last basket, Bonnie called out to the referee to get his attention.

Hey, I think I got one hurt out there, she said. I think I need to get her out of the game.

The referee looked back at Rayna, who was standing at the free-throw line grinning, soaking up the polite applause from the crowd and the roars from her teammates.

I think, the referee told Bonnie, she's going to be fine.* * *

Finally, Rayna's condition is stable. The swelling in her brain has stopped. She's still in a coma, still not breathing on her own and may have brain damage. But at least her parents can see her. After a few hours, they ask Bonnie if she'd like to join them in her room. The coach tiptoes in, worried about what she might find.

Tubes run in and out of Rayna's body; machines beep rhythmically as they force her heart to beat and her lungs to breathe. Sitting on the edge of the bed, Bonnie reaches out and touches Rayna's right hand.

It is ice cold.

With her other hand, Bonnie feels Rayna's right arm just below the shoulder.

It is warm.

Inch by inch, she moves her hands toward one another, until they're nearly touching.

Just below the elbow, she stops, her hands inches apart. One touches warm skin, the other cold.

It is the same with Rayna's legs. Just below the knee, her skin is cold.

Her blood pressure is so low that blood isn't circulating to her extremities. Gangrene is setting in. The tissue in her toes and fingers is dying.

There is nothing we can do to stop it, the DuBoses are later told.

Within a week of her hospitalization, Rayna's doctors talk about amputations.

How can one even begin to imagine Willie and Andrea's sorrow? Even if Rayna doesn't have brain damage, what will life be like for someone who was always the best athlete? How do you let go of that person, the one who comes bounding into the house in summertime, who wrestles with her older brother and throws her arms around her mom?

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.