The Comeback Kid
After Rayna’s physicians treated her with Xigris, nothing at first seemed to change. She still lay motionless, surrounded by flowers and teddy bears sent by her friends and teammates. Her family—her father, her mother, her brother, Quinton—continued to keep a vigil by her bedside. They waited. They hoped. Still, as time passed, they began to prepare themselves for the worst.
But then something unexpected happened. Rayna blinked. And then she blinked again. Her eyes were so bloodshot, she hardly looked like herself. With the breathing tube deep in her throat, she couldn’t speak. Soon, though, she was opening and closing her eyes—once for yes, twice for no—in response to questions. She even stuck her tongue out at her coach.
Rayna was back. Her brain function appeared normal. Smiles lit a room that had seen more than its fair share of tears. “It was a great moment, and we were full of joy,” says Andrea DuBose. “But the next moment, we were afraid again.” They had good reason to be frightened. Because Dr. Katz had told Andrea and Willie what was coming next.
“Will I be able to play basketball again?” That was the first question Rayna asked Dr. Katz when he told her that he’d have to amputate her hands and feet. He explained that the prolonged loss of circulation to her extremities had caused the tissue in her hands and feet to die.
Hands and fingers that once had arced effortless jump shots had become withered and useless. Feet that had sprung her skyward, where she’d tear rebound after rebound from the backboard, now made an empty, thudding sound when her doctors rapped their knuckles against them.
“Her tissues,” says Katz, “had literally mummified.”
Rayna refused to look her surgeon in the eye as he walked her through the procedure she’d soon undergo. Her head swam, and she tried to tune him out. What about her exams? And the next year, the Virginia Tech basketball team was traveling to Australia for a tournament. She had to go.
She heard the surgeon saying something about prosthetics. Prosthetics? It was all too much. She dissolved in sobs.
How had it come to this?
When Rayna awoke from surgery, both of her hands and both of her feet were gone. The tissue death had been so extensive that they’d been force to amputate just below her knees and elbows. To this day, it is the only quadruple amputation Katz has ever performed.
Yet Rayna was far from done.
Katz performed a series of follow-up surgeries to reconstruct the patchwork of tissue that remained in her forearms and lower legs. Rayna also underwent a series of skin grafts. One of her elbow joints became infected with an antibiotic-resistant infection, and it looked like the surgeon would have to amputate the elbow. But another operation—this one temporarily grafting her elbow to her chest wall to form new blood vessel connections—saved the elbow.
Those were dark days. Rayna mourned for the loss of her limbs and her life as she knew it. And the pain could be excruciating. Sometimes, it all seemed like too much to bear.
One night, Willie and Andrea DuBose were awakened by a phone call to their hotel room. When Willie picked up the receiver, he heard shrieking. It was Rayna, screaming uncontrollably. The physical pain, the anguish–it had overcome her.
Willie and Andrea rushed to the hospital. They tried to talk to their daughter, but she wouldn’t calm down. She wouldn’t stop thrashing and wailing. Finally, Willie climbed into Rayna’s bed and held her still. He patted her hair, rubbed her shoulder. Eventually, she grew quiet.