Written by Mark Griffin
Sunday, 02 November 2008 11:26
Alexis Donnelly felt a little bit strange two days after a head-to-head collision she had during Clay's season-opening soccer match against Anthony Wayne.
Donnelly, a sophomore striker for Coach Scott Wamer's Eagles, played Perrysburg 48 hours after the Anthony Wayne match and she knew something wasn't right.
"I started the game and my legs started to feel heavy and I felt weak and was having really bad headaches," Donnelly recalled. "I had to hold my head up during the game. I was starting to freak out. I had Wamer pull me out of the game. I couldn't handle it."
Donnelly ended up at St. Charles Hospital, where she said she was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome. It sounded reasonable, Donnelly figured, based on what happened during the match against AW.
"I ended up going to my pediatrician and he pretty much said the same thing," she said. "He said if I wasn't better in a couple days to come back and see him again."
Donnelly had difficulty going up the high school steps during the first two days of school. She had no center of gravity. That Saturday the Eagles were boarding a bus for an away match when Donnelly ran to team trainer Mindy Rober and gave her the low-down.
"I told her I was starting to feel tingly in my feet and I felt pretty wobbly," Donnelly said. "She said, 'You're not going to the game. You're going to the hospital right away.' She said I could have Guillain-Barré. She said those exact words. She has seen it before."
Guillain-Barré syndrome, or GBS, causes progressive muscle weakness and paralysis (the complete inability to use a particular muscle or muscle group), which develops over days or up to four weeks, and lasts several weeks or even months.
The classic scenario in GBS involves a patient who has just recovered from a typical, seemingly uncomplicated viral infection. Symptoms of muscle weakness appear one to four weeks later.
Donnelly's mother, Adrienne, picked her up at school and took her back to St. Charles.
"They gave me a CAT scan and sent me off with nothing," Donnelly said. "They said you don't have (GBS) and let me go."
The next day, Sunday, Donnelly said she started to feel really bad. She began sleeping more than 20 hours a day, and by the following Sunday, she could barely walk.
"I ended up falling Saturday night," Donnelly said. "We have one step to go into our house and I just gave out and collapsed."
On Monday, she went to pediatrician Dr. John McBride, and by that time Donnelly could barely lift her legs to get into the car. Dr. McBride told the family to make an appointment with a neurologist or a sports medicine physician.
"I ended coming home and getting really bad," Donnelly said. "Tuesday morning, the trainer called me and asked if anything happened. She said that's not right, that something's going on. She ended up calling Dr. Kruse, a sports medicine doctor. As soon as he saw me he said, 'You need to be admitted to St. Vincent right away.' "
At St. Vincent, Donnelly got an MRI of her head and spine and underwent a spinal tap to draw spinal fluid. She said that because of her symptoms and the amount of protein in her spinal fluid, doctors determined she had GBS.
Donnelly spent six nights and seven days in intensive care, where she received an IV IG treatment, which is supposed to revert her immune system back to normal. Each of the five treatments lasted 10 hours each.
"After one night, I improved a lot," Donnelly said. "I was still tingly. When I first went in, I couldn't lift my legs off the bed. After the first night I could lift my legs a good 3-4 inches off the bed. I was still getting very bad headaches and bad back pain, like I couldn't bend over. People had to help me walk. I couldn't do anything on my own."
Donnelly lost about 12 pounds during the entire ordeal.
She was released from the hospital on Labor Day but missed another week of school and did water therapy for about three weeks.
"I could see small improvements here and there," she said. "A week after I got out of the hospital I went to school in a wheelchair for half days. I was glad to be back and see everyone, but I wasn't feeling the best."
As of Oct. 27, Donnelly said, "I'm still not feeling like myself. I'm getting there with running but I'm still not where I used to be. I'm still getting bad headaches."
As the Eagles' only true striker, Donnelly's presence this season was sorely missed - athletically and emotionally. As a freshman, she scored 27 points, third on the team, with nine goals and nine assists.
"She was my biggest offensive weapon coming back from last year," Wamer said.
With Donnelly missing 12 full matches, Clay was still able to put together a 13-2-4 record this season.
"She played at the end of the season," said Wamer, who used to live three houses down from the Donnelly family. "I used her in spot play to give the strikers I had up there a two- or three-minute rest. I would put her in there a couple times each half. The last six games she was getting in a couple times per half."
Wamer said the Eagles "lost one heck of a soccer player and a big-time scorer" during Donnelly's absence, but said it was a huge inspirational lift for the team to get her back on the field Sept. 3 against Notre Dame Academy.
"The last time I saw her, she wasn't walking at St. Vincent's," Wamer said. "We all made it up there. I was going up there daily. It was very frustrating. My heart poured out to her and her family and there was nothing I could do.
"Obviously she was very disappointed because I think soccer is her favorite sport. She knew she was losing a varsity season. She stayed positive throughout the whole thing, but I think she was very frustrated and disappointed."
Donnelly said losing most of her sophomore soccer season was hard to take.
"I ended up going back the night of our first league game, against Notre Dame, and I got the captain's band for the night," she said. "It was a rush being out there. I was a cheerleader for a while, getting the girls ready to go, but it stunk not being able to be out there with them.
"They all came to see me in the hospital quite a few times and it always picked me up a little bit and I started moving around more. Wamer was awesome. He was there every day when I was in the hospital. He was there the second I got in the room. Every time someone came in the room, my face just lit up. It was nice to see people because I didn't think things were going to turn out."
Donnelly is taking a drug called neurontin, which helps control seizures and brain wave functions.
"I take it three times a day, every day," she said. "I have to take it for two months and then I go back and see my neurologist."
Donnelly plans to play for the Clay basketball team this winter, and she is hitting the weight room to try to get her arm strength back.
She admitted she now has a deeper appreciation for the little things.
"It just makes you look at things and not take life for granted," Donnelly said. "It makes you realize everything you have and who cares for you and who is there for you."