Sports

Two Sport Athlete Graham Battles Illness: Remains Positive and Optimistic

Victoria Graham arrived at Eastern as a freshman during the fall of 2012. She quickly became a successful pre-med major, an involved student and a hardworking two-sport athlete—playing on both the soccer and lacrosse teams. She was diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos, a painful neurological and connective tissue disorder, when she was 11. Finally, after a long search, the Graham family found a geneticist at John Hopkin’s that diagnosed her problem as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Ehlers Danlos, a hereditary, connective tissue disorder affects one in every 5,000 people worldwide. For Graham, her variation of Ehlers Danlos causes hypermobility in her vertebrae, which restricts blood flow to her vertebral artery and a compressed brain stem—resulting in her vast variety of symptoms. Because of the rarity and little amount of research on the disorder, most doctors that Graham has encountered have never even heard about EDS. She explains that she has to go through a “crash course” during most doctors’ visits, and does not usually get many questions answered herself.

Graham began experiencing a number of cognitive issues in November of 2013. She started having regular headaches, tingling in her arms and legs, vertigo, and other annoying symptoms that affected her performance in school, sports, and her other various activities. Since her joints are so loose and disconnected, her muscles and tendons have to work much harder in order to control her movements.

Coach Dan Maow describes Victoria as “aggressive…and able to push herself beyond her limits.” Graham herself says that her experiences with EDS have helped her grow mentally stronger, even though it has been difficult and stressful for her and her family. She states, “As I’ve grown, I’ve learned how to push through the pain to do the things that I love. I have had more doctors tell me not to play sports than I can even count, but despite that I was able to play three seasons of college soccer and lacrosse.”

Maow attests to this by telling a story about Graham preforming in her first college game appearance freshman year. He says that she was playing very well, when she suddenly wanted to come out of the game because she had dislocated her knee and needed to “walk it off.” Maow says that Graham knows how to deal with pain and how to play through her struggle with loose joints. After one particular game, Graham told Coach Maow that she could not feel her fingers. However, as a strong mental athlete, was used to fighting through her discomfort.

Graham and her family made the decision to withdraw her from college in order to seek further help. Maow states that Graham is “a generally positive person that we miss having around.” She will be receiving extensive surgery in April in order to further treatment. The surgery will reset her skull atop her spine in order to remedy pressure on her brain stem, as well as help numerous other issues. It will also help stabilize her vertebrae around her neck and head that frequently dislocate and restrict blood flow to her brain. Graham states that her faith and the support from her friends and family have helped her to get through this trying time in her life. She says, “Knowing that I am in safe hands and that the Lord has complete control over anything that happens to me has been so reassuring.…My friends and teammates at Eastern have been so supportive, so uplifting, and have played a huge role in keeping my sprits high.”

After surgery, Victoria plans on returning to Eastern to finish her education in biology, with a pre-medical focus. Her goal is to become a doctor and educate the medical community about Ehlers Danlos. Unfortunately, however, she believes that she will not be able to return to athletics, but plans on playing an “off-the-field role” with both teams.

 

If you wish to help the Graham family with funding Victoria’s surgery, visit her donation site at www.gofundme/6xerjc

“Like” Victoria’s Warriors Facebook page in order to receive updates about Victoria’s progress and information about events being held in the area to raise money to support her and her family.

“Victoria’s Warriors” bracelets are available for purchase as well ($3). Contact Dave Hoger in admissions for more information.

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