ASCA E-Newsletter

How Swimming Saved My Daughter's Life

I've always known about the amazing benefits of swimming -- the excellent cardio-vascular workout with few, if any, injuries; the satisfaction of setting goals, training hard, and seeing success at swim meets; the friendships made with swimmers from all over the city and state; and the knowledge that swimming is a sport that is lifelong. Having been a competitive swimmer myself, I encouraged all my children to swim. They started with the summer swim league and eventually became year-round swimmers. For the past five years, my family has been active at Northside Aquatics (410 pool) and today four of my five children are enrolled in the various club programs. Needless to say, I am a huge fan of swimming, but I didn't realize the impact that swimming had on my children's lives, that is, not until my child contracted staph pneumonia and nearly died.

An otherwise healthy 11-year old, Monica got the flu, along with the rest of our family. The problem began when she never got better. Her fevers continued, while ours came and went. On the fourth day, her fever spiked so high that I took her to our pediatrician. It was there that they listened to her lungs and immediately sent us to the ER.

I realized then that she possibly had walking pneumonia, so I was concerned, but not overly frantic. We drove to the hospital, and unfortunately, found no parking. We parked in the garage and walked. When we were admitted and a chest x-ray was ordered and reviewed, all the doctors were completely amazed that she was breathing on her own, let alone walking from the parking garage to the ER. From the x-ray, both lungs were almost completely filled with fluid.

This was just the beginning of almost a month spent in the hospital, trying to rid her of what they finally determined to be a particularly dangerous staph that was eating away at her lungs. The doctors in ICU said that Monica's appearance did not match her (what they called) "impressive" x-ray. The next two days were touch and go; if they couldn't stop what was destroying her lungs, we were told that she might not make it. When the doctors learned that she was an athlete, specifically, a swimmer, they were encouraged, but made no promises. But we knew that Monica was strong and that she was a fighter! After all, we had seen her competitive side racing at swim meets. We told her that this was going to be the biggest race of her life -- and that she had to win!

She ultimately fought and won, but it was a long battle. When we finally left the hospital (three weeks and two surgeries later), we were told she would not fully recover for at least six months. And even then, her lungs might not be normal. Yes, she could swim, but she probably would never reach where she was before the illness. We gladly accepted the news; we were just happy to be coming home. For two weeks we administered her medicine through an IV and had a home health nurse checking in on her. Her recovery was slow, but each day we could see that she was getting stronger and stronger. After her IV was removed, she was ready to get back into swimming. She had missed her friends and the sport. She eased back in with dryland training, and eventually started swimming with her group again. With the next swim meet quickly approaching, I knew she wasn't quite ready to compete, so she decided to time. But at the end of the meet, she was eager to race again. I knew she was ready, but were her lungs?

Just two months after this entire ordeal, she had a CAT scan to see if her lungs had improved. What we saw shocked doctors beyond belief. Both her lungs were almost completely healed, with only a small amount of scar tissue! Her six-month recovery had been dramatically cut by four months. We were hoping that she might be ready to fully participate in the short-course season in the fall, never imagining that she would compete in long course, achieve some of her best times, and make STAGS cuts in almost every event. Today, she's looking forward to the upcoming STAGS meet, and even setting goals for a possible TAGS cut or two.

So, we're right back where we started, as if nothing ever happened. But we know the truth; we know what happened. I think it has made Monica and our family stronger and closer. I have a new and refreshed appreciation for a sport that I've always loved. I can honestly say that I believe (along with the many prayers from family and friends and our strong faith in God) that swimming and its most amazing benefits saved my daughter's life. Because her lungs were in "swimming shape," she survived those first few crucial days, and then recovered in record time. Swimming means many things to me, but the most important aspect is that it is a sport that is keeping my children healthy, strong, and prepared and ready to fight any battles that might come their way. The Villarreal family lives in San Antonio, Texas and swims for Alamo Area Aquatics Assocation at Northside 410. The story was written by Kathy Villarreal, mother of Monica.


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