- Associated Press - Saturday, February 11, 2017

CAMDEN, Del. (AP) - Zoe Scott can still move into position to set a screen or box out an opponent quite adeptly on the basketball court.

And few want to attempt a shot when the 6-foot Scott’s long reach could get in the way.

The Caesar Rodney High junior’s hands sometimes let her down, preventing her from getting a solid grip on a rebound or the proper touch on a shot.

Considering where she was just over a year ago, in a bed at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Scott can live with that.

“I try my best to do what I can to help my teammates,” said Scott, recipient of the 2017 Buddy Hurlock Unsung Hero Award from the Delaware Sportswriters & Broadcasters Association.

The award, to be presented at the Feb. 20 DSBA luncheon, recognizes an athlete who has overcome difficulty while inspiring teammates. It honors Hurlock, The News Journal’s high school sports beat reporter who died at age 40 from a brain tumor in 2012.

“Her comeback makes me feel like anything is possible,” said teammate and classmate Brionna Brooks, “because when she was in the hospital I went and visited her and she could barely even walk and now she’s on the court playing with us.”

In many ways, Scott actually appreciates her good fortune, as painful and humbling as the process has often been. She’d smacked her head on the court after wrestling for a rebound and falling in a game last season against Polytech in the CR gym. She scored 20 points in the Riders’ 64-49 win on Jan. 14, 2016.

After the game, feeling ill and vomiting, she was taken to the emergency room at Kent General by her mother, Casey. Scans turned up a tumor, located between the C3 and C7 vertebrae in her cervical spine. She went to A.I. for further testing.

“The doctors said I had to get it removed within a month and that it was growing rapidly,” said Scott, who was told the tumor could have caused permanent paralysis had it not been discovered. “I never would have even known about it if I didn’t get that concussion.”

Four days later, that tumor was removed at A.I. But that was only the beginning of a medical ordeal that kept Scott out of school the rest of the 2015-16 year while she remained at the hospital or the neighboring Ronald McDonald House, where patients stay with their families while undergoing treatment.

When she awoke from her operation, Scott had what is termed “transient” paralysis from the neck down resulting from trauma to nerves in the area. She has limited memory of those initial days and wasn’t even fully aware of her limitations until she started therapy.

“I didn’t really know it until they had me try to stand up and I realized I couldn’t do anything,” she said.

One of two surgeons had warned Zoe and her mother just prior to the surgery that, “You’ve got a reality check coming. This is not going to be easy and you’re going to have to work really hard,” said Casey Scott, who described the post-operative situation as “terrifying.”

Zoe, she added, had to take a considerable amount of medication to combat the severe pain associated with nerves basically reawakening as her paralysis slowly diminished. For that reason, she may not recall some initial events, but her mother vividly remembers Zoe screaming and crying “Mommy, I can’t move, I can’t move!”

“All I could do was let her know I wasn’t going to leave her side,” said Casey, who is an emergency medical technician with the National Guard.

Sensation slowly returned, even though Scott couldn’t feed herself for a while. Being able to get up out of bed and then pivot into a chair, especially when she could do it without getting sick, was a major breakthrough. That occurred about three weeks after the surgery.

When Zoe started therapy, her determination quickly surfaced. Another important moment came more than six weeks after surgery when she could walk up one step.

“She really took to the nurses and the therapists,” Casey said. “They were amazing. Even when Zoe was sick, they’d say ‘Do you want to skip therapy?’ and she’d say ‘No, can they come to my room?’ They would do exercises with her lying in bed. She refused to miss therapy.

“Never once did the doctors say the damage was permanent so you see the results as they come and you know you’ve got to be patient. And with all the prayers we’d gotten from the team, the coach, the families, it pulled us all through.”

Visiting Zoe in the hospital was an eye-opening and gut-wrenching experience for her friends and teammates.

“It hurt my heart seeing her like that,” Brooks said.

Said Alexis Reid, a teammate and fellow CR junior: “It was bad in a sense, seeing her like that. It was hard. It’s good to see her progressing as much as she is. I’m very close with her and I knew she was just that type to come back.”

Scott’s right arm and hand - she is right-handed - always lagged behind, and still do to some extent. She now has six-month check-ups to make sure there is no indication of the tumor returning. So far, so good.

“Now I can feel everything except for my fingertips in both hands,” said Scott, whose handshake is stiff.

She has limited dexterity in her fingers, which is why Scott is averaging eight rebounds and four blocked shots per game but has made just two baskets and missed all 10 foul shots she has attempted this season.

“I coached her mother Casey Scott,” said CR girls basketball coach Bill Victory, referring to the 1998 CR grad who played soccer for him. “Her mother was a warrior. When I heard Zoe was coming back, I never really cut her any slack and she’s taken it all and I’ve always demanded her to be the best. ‘What are you willing to do to be what you’re supposed to be?’ “

Last year, Scott averaged 20 points, 19 rebounds and four blocked shots per game before the tumor was discovered.

“You should have heard the crowd when she scored a basket the other night,” Victory said, referring to CR’s 73-36 home win over rival Dover on Jan. 17. “The crowd went wild. You would think she scored 40. They know what she’s going through.”

They also know her potential.

As a Caesar Rodney freshman in the spring of 2015, Scott won the high jump at the state Division I meet and Meet of Champions by clearing five feet, two inches. She also played volleyball her freshman and sophomore years. She looks forward to rejoining the track and field team this spring and maybe even running relays.

Her experience, while causing some frustrating limitations, has also provided healthy doses of appreciation and perspective.

While at A.I. and the Ronald McDonald House, Scott was surrounded by other patients whose ordeals, she felt, were much more challenging than hers. And when she returned to the basketball court last summer for CR’s City of Dover recreational league team, Scott found supportive teammates.

“I couldn’t feel my hands at that point,” she said. “My teammates kept saying ‘You can do it,’ kept trying to give me the ball, even if I couldn’t catch it. It was just motivating when you have a team behind you to keep going.

“Don’t take anything for granted,” added Scott, an ‘A’ student who hopes to study occupational therapy at Howard University. “At A.I., my accomplishments didn’t seem as big as other people, kids going through chemotherapy and cancer.”

Victory, who is a bishop in Delaware’s Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said Scott’s experience has been a blessing to her and her teammates. The Riders take a 14-1 record into Friday’s game at Smyrna.

“They’ve rallied around her,” Victory said. “Just having her there, we know all of us are subject to something like that happening. That concussion gave her a gift so they could find that tumor and do something about it. Without that concussion, time could have snatched her up.

“The run that we’re on, this is part of it, because she’s giving all she could give. It’s coming together because of this.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com


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