Samantha Hutchinson is steadily regaining her strength. The Curtis High senior’s vertical jump has lost a few inches and her endurance isn’t what it used to be.
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Six days in a coma and defeating a life-threatening illness will do that to a person.
“I get tired quicker,” Hutchinson said at volleyball practice last week, “and the doctor said I probably won’t get back to 100 percent until the summer.”
That Hutchinson is even on the court, let alone playing, is nothing short of a miracle. On June 10, the fit and vibrant 17-year-old came within minutes of death.
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Hutchinson stayed home from school that day, exhibiting all the symptoms of the flu. Her father, Rick, wanted to be sure. He called Samantha’s primary physician and was given the only available appointment – 4:45 p.m., the last patient of the day.
By the time she arrived at Pediatrics Northwest in Tacoma, a purple rash had begun to appear on Hutchinson’s skin. Dr. Mason Oltman immediately recognized it as a tell-tale symptom of bacterial meningococcal meningitis. He quickly called the emergency room at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital to alert them that Hutchinson was on her way.
Hutchinson was put in a wheelchair, and Dr. Oltman raced her to the ER, where two doctors and nurses were waiting for her. Her kidneys were failing. They immediately hooked her up to IVs and, squeezing the bags, pumped four liters of fluid into her body.
To keep her breathing, she was intubated – a plastic tube snaking down her trachea so air could reach her lungs. Eventually, she would be connected by wires and tubes to 14 machines that kept her alive for six days.
Meningitis is treated with antibiotics, but as the antibiotics fight the bacteria, endotoxins are released and blood pressure drops. For any chance at survival, Hutchinson had to be put into an induced coma.
“The last thing I remember,” she recalled, “was the nurse telling me to give my dad a kiss goodbye.”
Had Hutchinson arrived even 30 minutes later, it would have been too late.
“We thought she was on her deathbed,” her father said.
Dr. Lawrence Larson, Hutchinson’s primary physician, credited the fast actions of his colleagues and Hutchinson’s fitness as the primary reasons for her surviving the disease.
“When it happens, usually it is fatal,” Dr. Larson said. “It is unusual to survive, and without major complications.
“The real star in all this is Samantha. She’s a tough, phenomenal athlete.”
Hutchinson was a first-team all-SPSL South outside hitter and a second-team selection to The News Tribune’s All-Area team in 2008. She has given an oral commitment to play at Western Washington University.
Yet, even this future college athlete was so weak when she came out of the coma after six days that she couldn’t raise her hand more than a few inches. Even the weight of a blanket was too much.
“There was a blanket over my hand,” Hutchinson said, “and I couldn’t lift my hand.”
She spent another six days in the hospital battling pneumonia – doctors say that’s not uncommon for patients who have required a ventilator – and regaining strength through physical therapy. When she was released, she had lost 14 pounds off her already-fit frame.
“When she got home she slept a lot at first,” said her mother, Dana. “She couldn’t do a whole lot. We had to get one of those medical chairs for the shower. But we made her walk every day, and she got a little better each day.”
Fast-forward two months and Hutchinson was well enough to turn out for the first day of practice. Vikings coach Jeff Grosshans told her that she could work her way back on her time. He gave her permission to pass on conditioning if she couldn’t keep up. She has taken him up on the offer only once.
“She stopped, but she was back on the court in five minutes,” he said. “She’s not using it as an excuse to get out of work.”
Hutchinson is expected to play a key role in the Vikings’ quest to repeat last season’s success. Curtis won the West Central District tournament and placed fifth at the Class 4A state tournament. With all but one starter returning, the Vikings are ranked No. 5 in the first Washington State Coaches Association rankings.
“I think we’re going to be pretty good,” Hutchinson said. “We’ve got a lot of experience back.”
Hutchinson still doesn’t know how she contracted the virus. There were no reported cases in Washington when she was ill. She had received an immunization, but the vaccine only protects against four of the five strains and she was afflicted by the fifth.
Dr. Larson said he believes the vaccine might have slowed the disease, helping the doctors catch it in time.
She is open to telling her story in hopes that others won’t have to go through such a traumatizing ordeal. According to Dr. Larson, the vaccine is readily available at all primary doctor offices.
“I feel really lucky,” she said. “I know I could have died. There are a lot of people to thank – all the doctors and nurses. I’m so grateful to them that I’m still here.”
Doug Pacey: 253-597-8271
blog.thenewstribune.com/preps FOUR THINGS TO WATCH FOR IN PREP VOLLEYBALL THIS SEASON
1. The Class 4A West Central District is loaded with top-tier teams. Five squads – Auburn Riverside, Graham-Kapowsin, Curtis, Kentwood and Olympia – are ranked in the top 10 of the Washington State Coaches Association poll. That’s not even counting unranked Bellarmine Prep, Central Kitsap, Gig Harbor and Puyallup; all unranked teams that coaches expect to make noise this season. Remember, only six will move on to the state tournament.
2. There’s no shortage of individual talent in the SPSL. Auburn Riverside middle hitter Brook Bray, Graham-Kapowsin outside hitter Kayla Reno and Curtis outside hitters Emily Cotter and Samantha Hutchinson are all league MVP contenders. Allie Schumacher, a sophomore outside/middle hitter at Puyallup, is ready to burst onto the scene, too.
3. Tumwater, the defending Class 2A state champion, lost two standout players in Amanda Warner, the 2A state player of the year, and Alex Sele, an all-state player now at Idaho, but don’t count out the Thunderbirds. Tumwater has six players who were starters or saw a significant amount of playing time last season. Black Hills, with five returning starters and a sixth-place state finish to build on, will challenge the T-birds for EvCo supremacy.
4. Lakes made a surprising run to the Class 3A state semifinals last year. No one should be shocked if the Lancers get there this season. With Colorado State-bound setter Deedra Foss leading the way, Lakes is the favorite to win the SPSL 3A title and should make another deep run into the postseason.
Doug Pacey, The News Tribune
WHAT IS IT?
Meningococcal disease describes infections caused by Neisseria meningitidis (also termed meningococcus). It carries a high mortality rate if untreated. While it is best known as a cause of meningitis, widespread blood infection (sepsis) is more damaging and dangerous.