I guess I never thought about what life would be like as a bilateral amputee. All my life I was the star athlete and the graceful dancer who used her twirls and spins in the game of basketball. I had just begun at Virginia Tech in 2001, and boy, was I living the life. I guess you could say I was taking advantage of a great opportunity – of having a full scholarship, receiving allowances, and, most importantly, being on my own. For the first time in my life, I didn't have a curfew; I could come and go as I pleased. Who would have guessed that I would leave Virginia Tech almost as quickly as I had entered?
I had just returned from Easter break with a teammate, and we had a team workout. Following workouts we usually did some type of hand-eye coordination drills. That day, I remember, we were juggling beanbags. My memory is blurry after that. I complained to teammates that I felt burning hot, then suddenly, freezing cold. Instead of going to dinner with my roommate, I decided to take a hot shower to warm up and then a quick nap before study hall. I took a few sips of water and headed to our locker room.
When 8:00 rolled around, my teammates came to get me, and we made our way up two flights of stairs and down a hallway that seemed to take a lifetime. Using the wall to hold myself up, I made it to the women's basketball offices, placed my backpack on the table and passed out. When I awoke a few hours later, I was lying in a hospital being pumped with fluid because I was diagnosed as dehydrated. Later that night I was released and ordered to go home and rest.
The next morning, it was time to head to the gym for the media guide team picture session. Instead of walking over to the gym with my roommate, she ended up carrying me because I was too weak to hold myself up. At the gym she dressed me in my uniform and carried me up the tunnel and onto the court, where until that moment I had always taken the perfect picture.
After the photo shoot, one of my coaches took me to the campus doctor's offices, where I blacked out again. I did not wake up until 3 weeks later to find that I had a hole in my throat, no voice, failed organs, and hands and feet that looked like raisins because there was no blood circulating to my extremities.
Who would ever have thought that I would contract the deadly bacterial disease known as meningococcal meningitis? This infection is caused by bacteria entering the cerebrospinal fluid and inflaming the tissue surrounding the brain and the spinal cord.
The only vivid memory I have of that time is the day my parents, nurses, plastic surgeon and chaplain surrounded my bed to tell me they were going to have to amputate. That was the day my life and all my priorities changed. My first thought was, “How can I live without my hands and feet because I am an athlete?”
As soon as I thought of being an athlete, I realized that I needed to be strong, because I was determined to get back to the college life – but, most importantly, to get back on my own. It was 97 grueling days of pain, surgeries, rehabilitation, and restoring my body before I was transferred back to my hometown of Baltimore.
I had always been the do-it-yourself type of person before my illness, and the same attitude remained afterward. Two weeks flew by, and my therapist ran out of rehabilitation exercises for me to do, because when I was not doing a workout, I was in my room thinking of ways to help myself when there was no one around. After those 2 weeks, I was allowed to go home.
I then started outpatient rehabilitation in Baltimore. Just like my inpatient rehab, I was flying through outpatient rehab, leaving my therapists stumped each time. I now had my prostheses. I was learning how to do everyday tasks like combing my hair, brushing my teeth, dressing myself, walking and jogging again.I was learning to use my new myoelectric hands, and, best of all, learning to cook. I ended up finishing rehab a few weeks early. That was a great feeling because I was only 3 months away from returning to Virginia Tech to a new townhouse with my old roommate. Most importantly, I was going back to my team.
Rayna's High School Basketball Stats
- Averaged 15.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks her senior year for Coach Marcus Lewis at Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Maryland
- Led team in scoring and was the school's all-time leading scorer with 1,067 career points
- Was named one of the top 30 centers in the nation by All-Star Girls Report
It may be hard for other people to understand, but being an amputee is a great thing, because it has presented me with so many opportunities in my new life. I say “new” life because I always believed I was meant to become a professional basketball player, so I never took the time to find things that I had a passion for. I think getting sick was a good thing; it helped me discover and find myself. I now know that God's plan for me is to be an inspiration and motivation to others. I will try to touch those who think they are not strong enough to overcome the hurdles and adversities in front of them every day, because my illness is an example that bad things can happen to good people. I overcame that hurdle, and so can they.
Each day is a new task for me. I think of ways that make my daily challenges easier. Although I have a roommate, she is not always there with me, which allows me to try different tricks and or methods of doing everyday chores. For example, if I drop a coin on the floor, I can't just grab it. Instead, I use my left hand as a guide to make the coin stand up so that I can grab it with my right. Or maybe I'll try stepping on one side of it with my shoe to make it stand up, and then I can pick it up that way. It has been 6 years since I got sick, and there are not many things I cannot do. I have had a lot of practice to help me be as normal as the next person.