To Fight with Every Step
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
| This is the 514th story of Our Life Logs |
I grew up in the late ’90s with the life that most people would dream about as a kid. My house was a few blocks from the best beaches California had to offer. The temperature was never lower than 55 (degrees Fahrenheit) and never higher than 85. I would spend my time riding my bike, surfing, and playing beach volleyball with my friends. Because sports were a cornerstone in our family, especially baseball, so naturally, I fell in love with softball at an early age. Running along the dirt fields became my favorite part of the day.
When high school finally rolled around, I was thrilled to play for bigger crowds. Oxnard’s softball program had a history of winning seasons. But the coaches at Oxnard also had a history of never playing freshmen in varsity games; until they met me. Despite being young, the coaches were impressed by my quick and sharp abilities and made me a season opener as a catcher. And I didn’t let them down, year after year.
When it came time to pick a college, I chose a little private school in the middle of Kansas named Kansas Wesleyan University. With a softball scholarship in tow, I started there in the summer of 2014.
There, I found out that I loved learning and studying…which was good, considering that I had a lot of time to focus on school.
In the fall of my freshman year, I suffered from a tethered spinal cord, which caused me to have a drop foot. For the next two seasons, (freshman and sophomore) the doctors tried every possible treatment to cure the drop foot. They gave me a leg brace for support, I went to rehab a few days a week–we even tried a daily pill to activate my nerves. Nothing worked. This led to major spine surgery at the beginning of my junior year. I missed the entire season. It seemed as if I was cursed. Still, I was determined to get back out there for my senior year. After months of recovering, I was healthy and ready to play. This was going to be my year.
My summer vacation was finally enjoyed instead of being held back by an injury. The beach trips and sand volleyball tournaments started back up. During the last week before school started, some friends and I went to the beach, as we always did, and played sand volleyball. It was so much hotter that day, and my friends were complaining about the hot sand on their feet. It didn’t bother me at all; I was just excited to be out.
That night, I felt a sharp pain in my foot. At first, I tried to ignore it, but it got to be too much. I looked at the bottom of my right foot and noticed there was a nickel-sized burn right under my big toe. Ouch! Maybe I should have listened to my friends. Still, at the time I didn’t think too much of it.
Just a few weeks before the season opener in January 2018, I started to feel really sick. The doctor brought little closure as each time I visited I got a different diagnosis. First, it was the flu. Then, it was bronchitis. I begged the doctors to look at my foot, but they were convinced it had nothing to do with that.
Things took a turn for the worst just a few days before we left for our opening tournament in Fort Worth, Texas. My fever was around 103, I had chills, my skin was pale, and I felt miserable. No medications helped. Basically, this “bronchitis” was kicking my butt. But there was no way I was skipping this tournament. I refused to let something else get in the way of my career. Not to mention my parents were flying out to see me play. So, I sucked it up and made it happen.
If there was ever a true story of bad omens, this trip was it. Four hours into the six-hour drive from Salina to Ft. Worth, our bus caught on fire. No, seriously, caught on fire. Smoke started coming from the back, so we pulled over. As we quickly filed out, the bus shot up in flames. All our personal belongings burned. We were grateful another team was just an hour behind us and was able to pick us up, but we were all pretty on-edge and shaken.
When it came to the game, I don’t remember much. I know I got a hit and played well, but I was too fixated on the pain in my foot during the game. I will never forget the feeling after my foot popped while I was crouched behind the plate. I tried to keep my mind off it, but the peculiar feeling wouldn’t go away. I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to look and see. I just wanted to win the game.
And hey! We did win! We planned to celebrate our victory with dinner after we all went back to the hotel to get changed. I wanted to shower before dinner, so I turned the nozzle and hopped in. As one often does when getting in the shower, I looked down at my feet. What I saw will be ingrained in my memory forever.
The flesh on my cut where my burn wound was had been eaten from the inside out, and my bones were exposed. I let out a small gasp that must have been loud enough for my teammates to check on me. I was sharing a room with three other girls who all stared bug-eyed at my open foot hole. One girl ran away to throw up. The other two nearly fainted and looked on the verge of tears. After the initial shock, they sprang into action, calling our trainer to the room.
I knew there would be no dinner for me. I knew I would be spending the rest of my night in a hospital, so, I made sure to enjoy my shower.
I woke the next morning in a quarantined room of the hospital with no idea what had happened. All I knew was that I felt horrible. After seeing I was awake, nurses burst frantically into the room with waiver forms for me to sign. I needed a blood transfusion, and the form was acknowledging the fact that the blood I receive may have an STD or another disease. My heart was pounding as I listened and tried gaining some mental footing of what was happening. My throat closed, and I couldn’t breathe. What was wrong with me?
I finally found out that my “bronchitis” was actually Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a very lethal bacterial infection just a step up from a staph infection. It turned out that my organs were only a few hours from completely shutting down when I was admitted last night. To save my life, doctors had to perform emergency surgery and remove the first metatarsal on my right foot.
When I became well enough to start communicating, I learned the state of my education. My professors had emailed me their sympathies and ensured me that I did not need to worry about schoolwork. I could finish my final semester next year. You would think I’d have been relieved, but I wasn’t. In fact, I was devastated. School was my second passion. I could pass any test, and I loved the thrill of studying. There was no way that I could simply give up and wait until next year.
And so, do you know what I did? I said, “No thanks.” I have never given up on anything in my life. I certainly was not going to start now. I would graduate on time, and I would recover and get back on the field someday. I wasn’t going to let the sickness win.
In my months of recovery, I would write papers from my hospital bed, finish homework assignments while taking IV antibiotics, and endure lectures while my body continued to fight infection. From the time of my initial surgery to the day of graduation, I had been in and out of the hospital. The longest stint was two weeks and the shortest was three days. I would spend 65 days in and out of the hospital in this time between the incident and graduation in May.
When I could leave the hospital, I was still completely non-weight bearing. Oh well. I just used a knee scooter, a wheelchair, crutches, or a walker with a seat to get from place to place. Still, I wanted to walk at graduation, even though I hadn’t taken an actual step in almost four months. Even when getting up was difficult, I pushed myself to keep going. And it all paid off. I passed all my classes and was set to graduate in May 2018 as planned.
At that point, I knew a thing or two about what happens when things are going “as planned.”
The infection came back in full swing at the end of April. I was back in the hospital a week before graduation. Before the doctor could give me any information, I let him know that I would be walking at graduation, without a boot, without a knee scooter, and without crutches. I would receive my diploma in the same manner as everyone else. He was not thrilled with the idea, but patients can’t be forced to do anything, so he instead advised me of the dangers that could come. Walking before my body was ready could mean that the infection could worsen, the bones could break in my foot, maybe something even more terrible. But I didn’t let any of it get in my head. I had set my mind to it, whatever the risk.
On graduation day, I put on my cap and gown and prepared for the most emotional day of my college career. When my name was called and I walked onto the stage, I was beaming with pride. Being able to walk, even with a slight limp, was amazing. I never felt more powerful. When I held back tears of joy as I shook hands with the president and heard my family clapping and whistling for me. Tears would eventually roll out, but I kept my composure on stage.
After graduation, I had to go back to the hospital to continue my fight. Another surgery was on the horizon, but I wasn’t too worried. I had completed what others said couldn’t be done. I knew from that moment on that I would face any hardships headed my way with as much courage and determination.
In total, I have battled through five surgeries. Half the length of my foot bears a scar, but I look to that scar for strength. Because, although I’ve improved, the battle continues. I will always have MRSA. My body may heal the wounds, but I always run a risk of getting to a life-threatening place again. I can walk around in short bursts, but if I go too far, the bones will rub my skin and cause a new hole.
Today, I am in the master’s program at Kansas Wesleyan University. I have even started to dream again. I will hike Mount Rushmore and stand in the nose of George Washington. I will be a booger in a president’s nose. I will have my morning cup of coffee in a shop in downtown Italy. I will be the mom with way too many snacks at the little league game. I will be the best I can be and I will never give up the fight to reach my dreams.
This is the story of Meagan Contreras
Meagan, 23, grew up on the California coast, where she grew to love playing softball. During her senior year of collegiate softball, Meagan faced the biggest medical battle of her life after developing MRSA in the bone of her foot and almost died. But she fought her illness, refusing to take time off school so she could graduate on time. This resilience has remained in every decision she’s made since the illness.
Today, Meagan is a graduate student and the Director of Game Operation and office manager at Kansas Wesleyan University. After college graduation, she was presented with Kansas Wesleyan’s strength award. It is given to one student a year who shows amazing strength, courage, and what the human spirit is capable of. This award is now hanging on the wall in her bedroom. Meagan still has another surgery or two before she is completely healed. The doctors will need to redirect three of her toe bones in order for her foot to function properly again, but she is ready to take those steps to reach a day she can travel and reach all of her dreams.
This story first touched our hearts on March 26, 2019.
| Writer: Austin Cross | Editor: Colleen Walker |
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