-- At first, Rayna DuBose sat still in the golf cart that carried her and women's basketball coach Bonnie Henrickson onto the field at Lane Stadium after the first quarter of Virginia Tech's game against Rutgers. Overwhelmed by a crowd of more than 60,000 who stood to applaud her continued recovery from a rare case of meningococcal meningitis that caused her to lose parts of all four of her limbs just six months ago, DuBose looked in awe at the cheering mass.
Today's activities celebrated DuBose's return to campus and were part of a fundraiser to help cover her medical expenses, which have totaled more than $1 million.
After drinking in the cheers for a minute, DuBose lifted her right arm, now fitted with a prosthetic, in acknowledgement. Then came a gentle nudge on her left shoulder by Henrickson. After a quick nod, the 19-year-old who celebrated her birthday four days ago this time stood to celebrate life. Supported by her father's outstretched hands, DuBose sneaked a peak at herself standing on the jumbo scoreboard and broke into one of those broad smiles that her coaches and teammates say define her best.
"My spirits are high," said DuBose, an All-Met from Oakland Mills High in Columbia, Md. "I don't think since I've been sick that anything's gone down at all. I really don't think my goals have changed. Everything is still the same about me. I want to come back to school and graduate and play basketball, hopefully."
As Rayna rattled off that list, her parents and coach couldn't resist grinning in amazement. Six months ago, DuBose was in a coma for three weeks at the University of Virginia medical center with nearly all of her organs in failure. She had suffered a heart attack. Her lungs collapsed. Her blood flow was irregular. Her liver and kidneys were in failure. And there remained a very real possibility that even if she awoke she would be wrought with brain damage.
Doctors told her parents, Willie and Andrea DuBose, that she might not live.
"Of course the onset was devastating," said Andrea DuBose, 57. "It was quite frightening, not knowing if Rayna would actually be with us here today or not. . . . We had a lot of traumatic moments. But when she did wake up we were ecstatic because she actually knew who we were. She blinked once . . . and then knew us. It was a blessing in disguise. It was a miracle that she actually woke up, said hi to us and recognized us."
In fact, Willie DuBose, 52, said her first question to her parents last April was, "What about my finals?"
"I knew if she asked about that, she must be well," he said, winking at his daughter.
Doctors have credited DuBose's physical condition as part of the reason her recovery has been so miraculous. Andrea DuBose said doctors were certain she would be hooked up to a dialysis machine for the rest of her life. Instead, her kidneys are functioning on their own.
"One doctor said, 'If I were a betting man, I'd have lost my house,' " she said.
But other than five days of therapy per week to adjust to her prosthetic arms and legs, she was cleared last week from weekly hospital visits. She eventually will be fitted with myoelectric arms that will allow her to control her fingers, but that is still about 48 months away. Doctors are even saying she will run someday, which is a revelation that has turned into a joke between DuBose and Henrickson.
DuBose arrived in Blacksburg on Friday night, and her first stop was the team's practice. She came up through the tunnel that runs adjacent to the women's locker room, and was instantly engulfed by her teammates.
"It was interesting," DuBose said of watching practice. "But I didn't miss the running."
"Oh, the doctors told you you'd be able to run," Henrickson teased.
DuBose said she plans to return to school next summer and already has plans to dress for games so she can help coach from the sideline and provide inspiration to her teammates. In truth, that's something she is already doing from a distance. Through daily updates, her teammates have discovered that DuBose is learning to eat by herself and dress herself. Her balance has gotten better, to the point where she not only can sit and stand on her own but can even take a step or two.
"I can take a few steps by myself, but I do better walking with a platform walker so I can bear weight on my elbows," DuBose said.
And her mother laughingly assures that Rayna also has no problem operating any phone or computer in the house, including her cell phone.
"She had her [hard] times," Andrea DuBose said. "But she's back to Rayna now."