Editor’s note: Owensboro Times Sports Editor Ryan Richardson spoke with Emma, Angie and Terry Anderson about what the family has gone through during the last five months. Be sure to read the full interview at the end of this story.
There was a point a few months ago when it was uncertain whether Emma Anderson would even be able to walk again.
Through a long, difficult road to recovery, Emma — a senior at Daviess County High School — is preparing to step back on the basketball court Friday night during a game at Apollo.
In early August, Emma unexpectedly developed what was ultimately diagnosed as a functional movement disorder — a neurological disorder that causes involuntary movement and impedes one’s ability to walk.
Emma spent weeks limited to her hospital bed in Louisville, and she suffered through other illnesses and a series of complications during her recovery. Angie and Terry — Emma’s parents — had to sacrifice their time at work and with their other children to help care for Emma since she was unable to do anything on her own.
The initial recovery phase took longer than expected, but Emma’s determination to play at least one game this year drove her to a miraculous comeback.
She’s played in a couple of junior varsity games this week — she drained a pair of 3-pointers Wednesday night — and will return to action with the varsity squad for the first time Friday.
Daviess County head coach John Kirkpatrick and the rest of the team made numerous trips to Louisville throughout Anderson’s rough journey, and the family said they were appreciative of all the support.
Kirkpatrick said Emma’s determination to make a full recovery and play again was an inspiration for the team. She watched taped practices from her hospital bed, and she hasn’t missed a practice since coming home unless it interfered with her ongoing therapy.
“She showed our team how to handle adversity,” Kirkpatrick said. “She showed them how to embrace and accept help. She showed them there is a lot more to this world than basketball. She showed them how to put their mind to something and work hard for it. Her commitment to the team never faded, not one time.”
INTERVIEW WITH ANDERSON FAMILY
RYAN: Take me back to the beginning and what happened.
EMMA: Really, we don’t know what happened. It started with a little cold, but you can still go to school and do your normal routine with a cold. It kept getting worse and worse and I ended up going to the hospital and had to get my appendix and gallbladder removed.
I was in there for about a week and I felt a little bit better, but I couldn’t go to school for another two weeks. (This was in August). I went back to the hospital because I was having some really bad pain in my stomach. I ended up having a small bowel obstruction and I was in the hospital for seven weeks after that.
ANGIE: Well, she was in the hospital for about a week (the first time), and they transferred her to Louisville to (Norton) Children’s because she kept running a high fever. She wasn’t eating. She ended up losing about 20-25 pounds.
As it went on, her stomach was getting better, but because she’d been so weak and so bad for so long, she got to the point she couldn’t walk. It was taking her dad and I both just to get her out of bed. She was (at Children’s) for about three weeks, and then she went to Frazier (Rehab Institute) and she was there for another three weeks —
TERRY: — in a wheelchair.
ANGIE: Daviess County’s first game was Dec. 5. She sat on the bench in her wheelchair a month ago, and she’s out there playing tonight. (Emma played with the JV team Wednesday night.)
At one point there were concerns you might not be able to walk again?
EMMA: They gave me a time estimate at Frazier of 7-10 days. It ended up being about three months before I started getting better.
TERRY: We didn’t know if it was going to happen again. Three or four weeks ago, she just turned a corner. We don’t know what happened. She just worked her tail off.
ANGIE: A lot of hard work and rehab. Coming to practice and working with a trainer, doing some exercises, regaining her balance, going to therapy two or three times a week. And then she was able to start practicing on top of all that.
I know you love basketball and probably were looking forward to this season. What was your mindset as this was all going on?
EMMA (struggling to fight back tears): I was hoping I could play at least one basketball game this year because it’s my senior year. I just wanted to be back in Owensboro, in this community.
Did you ever doubt you’d be able to make it back?
EMMA: Yeah I did. I was scared for a while.
TERRY: She was determined. I didn’t think she was going to be back. She proved me wrong.
ANGIE: I was hopeful. I didn’t think she’d be back at this point. I thought maybe she’d be back by the end of the season, but I didn’t know if she’d be able to play a full game. Felt a lot of prayers — from everywhere. A lot of determination. I don’t know that very many people could have done it.
EMMA: It helped having the basketball team behind you and support you. Coach (John Kirkpatrick) has been amazing.
ANGIE: He’s not just our coach anymore. He’s part of our family.
So you had to relearn the basic motor skills before you could even think of getting back on the court?
ANGIE: It was taking her about 18 minutes just to walk up and down one flight of stairs.
EMMA: I was tired.
ANGIE: Her whole body would go into a muscle spasm. It almost looked like a seizure but she was fully aware of everything.
EMMA: That was probably the worst part was being aware.
So is everything starting to feel natural again?
EMMA: It is. It’s more comforting than being laid up in bed.
What was it like getting back on the court in these JV games?
EMMA: I was kind of nervous at first because I haven’t been here almost the entire time. Once I started going it felt good and I relaxed.
You’re expected to play in the varsity game Friday. What are your thoughts about that?
EMMA: I’m excited more than anything. Again, I’m a little bit nervous because it’s my first varsity game back. But I’m hoping to have fun.
There’s still a month left this season. What are your expectations going forward?
EMMA: Being focused on our attitude. Being positive, because there’s always something that could be worse.
How has your determination to get back helped the team?
EMMA: It’s been good for everyone just to realize that I would have died to run a sprint instead of sitting in a wheelchair. Running sprints now is something I kind of want to do. I’m not saying I want to run 20 of them, but it’s something I’m lucky to do.
As parents, all of this had to be hard to watch.
TERRY: It was a nightmare. It was just a nightmare.
ANGIE: We had to try to figure out who was going to stay, because somebody had to be with her all the time. We both work. It was trying to figure out who could be with her, who was going to work, just so many different things. You just don’t realize the impact that it has on a family, even.
As far as her team, I think that’s twofold. I think the inspiration went both ways — them being behind her has helped her, and I think her motivation has helped them.
EMMA: Our culture is just amazing at Daviess County because of Coach K.
Emma got to come home from Louisville Oct. 24 — she had been there since Sept. 18. On Jan. 1, she was ready to start playing again.
What were the doctors saying in terms of you getting to play again once you came back home?
EMMA: They didn’t really say much of anything.
ANGIE: The doctors there said it was Functional Movement Disorder. When we got back home and she started going to therapy here, they said it wasn’t. All in all, now that she’s getting better, I think everybody is on the same page and feels that’s what it was.
EMMA: They never really gave a certain time period after I was at Frazier. I was there three weeks when I wasn’t supposed to be.
TERRY: She kept telling us that she’d be back by “this time, you wait and see” —
EMMA: Well, at first I said December. Then I said, ok maybe we need to move that back a couple weeks. It ended up being a couple more weeks. It was a great way to start the new year.
What is it like seeing her back on the court?
ANGIE: Amazing. Amazing. Amazing. Tearful. Just being out there at all and hitting a shot when you didn’t even know if she was going to be able to play. And when you see videos from where she was and how difficult it was for her to even walk, and then to be able to run — backwards — up the court.
EMMA: I was getting sores all over my body because I was just laying in bed while I was in the hospital.
ANGIE: It’s pretty amazing. We appreciate all the support. It’s amazing how people have pulled together in support of her. I told her that it speaks very highly of those people, but I think it also speaks highly of her character.