State of the Hogs: Erica Lewis

Erica Lewis isn't going to be at Lady'Back field on Senior Night, but her spirit makes her a true Fighting Razorback.

If you looked in the dictionary for Fighting Razorback, there ought to be a picture there of Erica Lewis. She represents all that those words mean to me.

Tenacity, toughness, grit, determination, fight to the end, passion, will to win. Lewis is all of those things and more.

That's the way she plays and lives life. And, that's the way she cheers for her Razorbacks, no matter the sport.

That's my opinion, and that of about anyone else you'd ask that knows just a tiny bit of her ilk. I've known Erica, AKA Spike, for about the last 12 years. I first met her while watching my daughter, Sarah, play for the Arkansas Comets Soccer Club.

Erica was two years younger, but played "up" on Sarah's team. I got to know the girls and parents of that team while serving as team manager, meaning I handled the paperwork (not the coaching).

I got the pleasure of sitting with Coach Samir Haj at many games and tournaments and did simple tasks like apply ice packs to over heated girls when they competed in 105 degree heat. I saw what those girls were like up close and personal.

Erica was and is as tough as they come, asking for the most difficult assignment at every turn and always winning.

I remember the Comets drawing the eventual national champs, the Atlanta Top Hatters, in the first round of the regional tournament in the under 18 bracket. The Top Hatters were stocked with players from throughout the southeast part of the country, mostly with players headed to the University of North Carolina. Names were being thrown about during the pre-game chalk talk. It was suggested that a particular outside midfielder was the Top Hatters toughest player and our players were distancing themselves from that assignment.

Erica, a year younger than most and two years younger than some on our roster, raised her hand. "Let me at her," she said. "That's who I want, the best they've got." It was a virtual stalemate that day in at least one spot on the field.

I tell you all of this because Erica is having a tough time right now. She should be home in Fayetteville preparing for her Senior Night with the Arkansas Lady'Back soccer team tonight against South Carolina.

Instead, Erica is in Rochester, Minn., at the wonderful Mayo Clinic healing from what was scheduled to be brain surgery. I guess it kinda was and kinda wasn't brain surgery.

Most don't know it, but Erica has battled seizures since her seventh grade year. Her dad, Jim Lewis, told me today that she had a seizure between the time the game ended when, as a sophomore, she helped Fayetteville to the first ever Arkansas Activities Association-sanctioned high school soccer championship and when she went back on the field to accept her award as the game's most valuable player.

She's had them off and on, often going many months between them. Of late, they've been more frequent, sometimes four or five per day. Finally, this summer, Jim and Theressa Lewis took their daughter to Mayo to see what could be done.

"The doctors at Arkansas Children's Hospital had been treating her with medicine for a long time, trying to find something to stop them, but it just got worse lately," Jim said. "They sent us to Mayo. They are wonderful and so caring, just the best place in the world."

And, Jim Lewis said that AFTER the specialists there had to tell Erica that for the first time ever, they had failed in their bid to isolate seizures and end them with a new procedure developed there that requires removal of a small piece of the brain.

I may not get all of this right because it's complicated. Basically, they removed a piece of Erica's skull, inserted a number of electrodes into her brain and waited for her to have a seizure. She did, but not in the area they had prepared.

"They decided that the seizure started in another area and spread into the grid they had set up," Jim said. "So, they closed up that area, put her skull back on, and then did a second surgery, taking off another piece of her skull."

All of that went well, but Erica didn't have any more seizures.

"There comes a point that they don't want to leave that area of the brain exposed," Jim said. "The risk of infection is too great."

So after three weeks of waiting and a stay now close to four weeks, doctors gave up. They put Erica back together and told her she could go home.

"The doctor hung his head when he told Erica," Jim said. "He said they'd never had that happen before."

All Erica wanted to know was when she could come back to try again.

Oh, she asked more questions. Could she get back to Fayetteville in time for the weekend, to pick up her senior award and then cheer on the Razorback football team against Georgia? The same doctor who told her in July to give up soccer for good told her she'd have to wait a few more days to go home. I wouldn't want to have been that doctor.

I don't really worry about Erica Lewis. She'll be fine. She'll fight through this just like everything else she's faced. This is just a temporary setback. She'll solve it. She's battled through serious knee surgery, fought through a medicine that slows her brain and still earned an SEC academic award with over a 3.0 grade point average. She won't stay down long. Haj, who coached her in high school and club soccer, agrees.

"She's one of the toughest players I ever saw in all my years with soccer," Haj said. "The first time I saw her play recreation soccer, maybe when she was 8 or 9, you saw it and it never changed.

"She was very well liked by her teammates and they knew she was going to play them hard in practice and do everything to contribute even to the point of being reckless. She played hard with unbelievable work rate."

Her dad said that came easy for Erica, and may have been the product of some words of wisdom from Ron Brewer, once her AAU basketball coach.

"Ron told her that there may be players with more ability, but you should never get out worked," Jim said. "Erica took that to heart. That's how she prepared and played."

I've been in contact with the Lewis family during most of the four weeks they've been at Mayo. Jim has told her story to our HawgsIllustrated.com community through our premium message board where he and Erica are frequent visitors.

That community has sent cards, letters and gifts during their stay at Mayo. Among their favorite presents are a number of foam "stresscot" Razorbacks that they've been squeezing almost around the clock.

"My dad has been squeezing them more than me," Erica told me on the phone Thursday morning. "I really like them. I love anything Razorback. He's been feeling more stressed than me. I guess that's normal.

"I have to tell you, my parents take good care of me. They've done everything in the world to help me. My mom, dad and my boyfriend, Jason Frankenbergr, have been just wonderful. Can you recognize them in the paper for me?"

Then, Erica said she had one more thing to ask. She wanted me to do something for her Friday night.

"Can you be there on the field when they give my senior award, and get it for me and my mom and dad?" Erica said. "It would mean a lot to me and my family."

I can't imagine many things better than picking up an award for a real Fighting Razorback.


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