Monday, April 14, 2008


New Lease on Life

Nice story in Sunday's Spokesman about an EWU football player who survived battle with meningitits.
Here's the text:

New life to live
EWU football player Kelley survives near-fatal bout of bacterial meningitis

Steve Bergum
Staff writer
April 13, 2008

Doctors put him into an induced coma and onto a respirator to make sure he kept breathing. He spent a week in the hospital, lapsing in and out of consciousness and shouting, often times incoherently, at his nurses.

Had his girlfriend not acted as quickly and decisively as she did, there is a good chance he might have fallen back to sleep on that scary mid-March evening – and never awakened.

Still, Ryan Kelley refuses to buy into the idea that he somehow cheated death.

His religious beliefs won't let him.

Instead, the first-year transfer and junior defensive back on Eastern Washington University's football team is convinced that his near-fatal bout with bacterial meningitis earlier this spring had a deeper meaning.

Now, as he continues to cope with its lingering side effects – a partial hearing loss in his left ear, periodic lapses of concentration and a dull ache in his back from the spinal tap he underwent – Kelley is living his life with a renewed sense of purpose.

"I believe God has something more planned for me," the 22-year-old Kelley said last week while recalling the incident that nearly cost him his life. "I think he put me in that situation because, maybe, he felt I wasn't appreciating life the way I should. And sometimes, after you go through something like that, you start to see things in a different perspective.

"I know I sure look at life a lot different now."

So does Kelley's girlfriend, Deadra Barnett, who was with him the night he collapsed in the bathroom of the apartment the two share in Cheney and made the 911 call that saved him from becoming another victim of the deadly disease.

"Mentally, the whole ordeal has changed me a lot," said Barnett, a sophomore at EWU, who has known Kelley since she was first introduced to him by mutual friends about a year ago in the Los Angeles area, where they both live. "It was a very hard situation to go through, seeing someone you love so much go through something like that.

"The disease attacks the brain, and for two or three days, he was completely out of it, and I saw him at his worst. It completely affected me. It brought me closer to my religion and his family, and made me appreciate life that much more."

Today, Kelley appears perfectly healthy again as he strolls around the football practice fields at Eastern in sweat clothes, yelling words of encouragement to his teammates as they go through spring drills under first-year coach Beau Baldwin and his new coaching staff.

But he stills suffers from a partial hearing loss in this left ear that might prove to be permanent. He still finds his mind wandering in certain social settings, including the classroom. And he still struggles to regain the strength and weight he lost during his weeklong hospital stay.

"I lost 12 pounds and it's always been hard for me to gain weight," said Kelley, who played in the Eagles' secondary at 180 pounds last fall. "I'm on a consistent diet of vitamins, Omega-3 pills and protein shakes, and I'm trying, literally, to eat five times a day."

Kelley's physical activities have been limited to riding an exercise bike, stretching and doing body squats. Brian Norton, the Eagles' head athletic trainer, also has him playing Scrabble, card games and video games to sharpen his mental awareness.

"The meningitis affected my brain," Kelley said. "I still have some memory loss. I'll remember things in the past, but sometimes I'm at a loss for words. And it's easy for me to mentally go astray, like when I'm sitting in the classroom.

"During a 45-minute class, for instance, I might veer off somewhere and start daydreaming at least three or four times, and that's not normal."

He finds himself losing interest and falling asleep while watching movies on the television in his apartment.

"The doctors told me they were all normal side effects, and they said my mental focus will come back, but I do have to keep exercising my mind," Kelley said. "Hopefully, it will, because I really love watching movies."

The doctors also told Kelley he had probably been a carrier of the bacterium that causes meningitis for some time. But the only symptom he had shown prior to its full-blown outbreak was an innocent looking rash on his neck, the kind that you normally get from wearing fake jewelry.

"I don't wear jewelry, but I still didn't think much about it," Kelley said. "I just put some ointment on it and forgot about it."

Two weeks later, however, Kelley experienced what he thought were simple flu symptoms.

His neck hurt and he was nauseous. But when he woke up later that evening, he had a mind-numbing headache that felt "like a thousand people stomping on my head," a fever of 107 degrees and a severe case of the cold sweats.

"My side of the bed was all wet with sweat, but I was cold and shivering," Kelley said. "It was ridiculous."

His girlfriend suggested he see a doctor right away, but he refused.

"I told her I was just going to sweat it out," Kelley said. "I had made some enchiladas the day before, and I figured, maybe, I hadn't cooked them quite right, and that I'd get over it."

Later that evening, however, he woke up again and vomited.

He did the same thing on an almost hourly basis throughout the night, until finally giving in to Barnett's insistence that he go to the emergency room.

"I finally agreed that it was unbearable," said Kelley, who would later learn from doctors that had he delayed his decision to go to the hospital another hour he probably would have died.

But after putting on his jacket, he decided to use the bathroom again, and while he was in there, he collapsed into the shower doors.

Barnett, who was on the phone calling Kelley's mother at the time, grabbed him and helped cushion his fall. She immediately hung up on his mother and dialed 911.

Kelley started having seizures in the ambulance and, according to Barnett, was put into an induced coma and hooked up to a respirator shortly after arriving at the hospital.

He was placed on antibiotics and remained in intensive care for several days before waking up on Easter Sunday to see Barnett sitting at his bedside, along with his mother, Linda Kelley, and grandmother, Darnetta Lloyd, who – at Barnett's insistence – had made the trip from Los Angeles.

"When I woke up that morning my family was there, and they said I had a big smile on my face," Kelley said. "I don't remember hardly anything that went on before that, but they told me I was fighting with the nurses and that I wouldn't cooperate."

Kelley's new position coach, Torey Hunter, who stopped by to visit, described Kelley's hospital room antics like something out of a scene in "The Exorcist."

"I didn't know it," Kelley said. "It was something they had to tell me. I would pass out and then wake back up and blab something out and then fall back to sleep.

"I guess I wasn't the model patient."

Kelley was released from the hospital later that week, and continues to do what he can to get back into shape and continue his promising football career.

"It hurts that I can't practice this spring," he said. "Some of the coaches that stayed here saw the improvement I made during the winter, but the new coaches have never seen me before.

"Coach Baldwin and Coach Hunter, and a few of the others saw the way I fought in the hospital – not just with the nurses – but just in the way I didn't give up. And they told me it was nice to see someone who can fight like that, and that they hope it will translate to the football field next fall."

Until then, Kelley plans to do what he can to get back into playing shape and appreciate every moment of the gift he was given.

"Besides God, I really have to thank my girlfriend, because she was so calm throughout the whole process," he said. "She was right there with me every step of the way and she knows I definitely appreciate that.

"Obviously, if she wasn't there, I wouldn't have made it. First of all, there was no way I could have driven myself to the hospital, and second of all, I probably would have just tried to sleep it off. And the doctors told me if I had done that, I would have never woke up."

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