After struggles with COVID-19, Crete teen encourages others to get vaccinated

"I had trouble breathing. I couldn't get up and down the court. I had to get pulled out like every quarter to take a break, because I couldn't breathe."

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Crete High School junior Marli Stones says she first got COVID-19 at Thanksgiving of last year.

She didn’t think much of it at the time. It wasn’t until a high school basketball game two months later where she realized something had gone seriously wrong.

“I had trouble breathing,” she said. “I couldn’t get up and down the court. I had to get pulled out like every quarter to take a break, because I couldn’t breathe.”

Doctors tried everything to figure out what was wrong with her.

“I went to the doctor to get breathing tests done,” she said. “I got an inhaler and that still didn’t seem to be working. I went to see [Bryan Heart cardiologist] Mathue Baker, and he gave me beta blockers to help my heart.”

That’s when Marli was diagnosed with post-COVID syndrome.

“She did have some significant dysregulation of her heart rate, where her heart rate, normally in young, healthy athletes like herself, would tolerate lots of activity, before picking up speed,” Baker said. “Hers was really taking off racing with minimal activity, and was really affecting both her performance and just overall quality of life.”

The future of Marli’s athletic career hung in the balance.

“Doctor Baker told me that if there was scarring on my heart that I may never play again,” she said. “It was like, really scary and I never thought that was a possibility from COVID.”

Fortunately, doctors say her long-term prognosis is good, with an MRI revealing that she had no damage to her heart. 

However, just as the Crete basketball and softball star was returning to action, she experienced another setback: she tore her ACL in a June summer league basketball game.

 “It’s been really hard and it’s been frustrating,” she said. “I had struggles with the post-COVID [syndrome] and so when I finally got back, when I finally was getting it under control with the beta blockers, and then going out with my ACL, it really sucked. I just hope that I’ll be back soon.”

“Instead of going to ballgames we’re going to doctors offices,” Marli’s father Martin said. “It kind of stunk.”

Marli is currently rehabbing her injury and expects to be back in time for the start of basketball season in the winter.

In the meantime, Marli and her family want to use her story to encourage people who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine, so they don’t have to experience what she did.

“As a nurse, but also as a parent, I want other parents to know that COVID is real, and you can have significant impacts, lifelong impacts,” Marli’s mother Linda said.

“I really wish I could have had it so that I wouldn’t have to have COVID,” Marli said.

Marli got her first vaccine shot about a month ago and got her second shot on Friday afternoon.

As for her sports career, Marli says she’s facing a six-month recovery from her ACL injury. A point guard on Crete’s basketball team and a shortstop on the softball team, she’s hopeful to return to action in January.

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