This Hog Fan Knows The Meaning Of Tough

Years ago in a staff meeting at the Tulsa World, the Executive Editor looked at me and asked, "OK, a report from the toys and games department." Everyone laughed. Of course, I was the representative of the sports department and proceeded to provide the daily budget report.

I probably would have taken it badly except the head man was a former sports editor and had always gone to bat for our department in any budget crunch. He knew the importance of the sports department in the big picture. He was humoring those outside the department who always looked at myself and my colleagues as something below the news department, or other areas of the newspaper.

I am reminded constantly by one of my friends in this business that we are just watching a bunch of tall guys run around and throw a ball at a basket. He asks me to try not to take things so seriously. He tells me often, "Remember, it's just a game."

Erica Lewis reminds me of that often these days. Dubbed "the soccer girl" on the HawgsIllustrated.com premium message board, Erica's story was first revealed in this space last fall when she spent close to a month at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in hopes of becoming seizure free. Doctors tried two delicate surgeries to implant grids to find the location of her seizures. Both failed because she didn't have a seizure during the two weeks the grids were in place. She returned home determined to try again another day.

After the seizures returned with force and frequency, that day has come. There is wonderful news. Erica is back at home in Fayetteville after the world's best doctors successfully removed the small piece of her brain causing her seizures.

The surgery was performed Monday. I knew about all of this because her father, Jim, kept our HI.com message board updated through daily posts from Mayo Clinic of the story of the former Lady'back soccer player. It was gut wrenching to read these posts as doctors first installed that grid to locate the point of the seizure, then several days later went in to remove the quarter-sized piece of Erica's brain.

The odds are now good that Erica will be seizure free the rest of her life. Per Arkansas law, if she remains seizure free for six months, she will finally do something most of us take for granted, drive a little silver car with her nickname on the license plate. Even better, later this summer, she will be married.

Erica's fame early in life, when she was known mostly as "Spike" came as one of the state's top soccer players and also a fine guard on the basketball floor. She was always known for her fierce competitive spirit. That same spirit was with her as she asked for second and third chances at Mayo to end her seizures.

I've been told by her father and several doctors that the surgery required in this instance is extremely painful. Most can barely make it through once, much less three times. Installing that grid to just isolate the spot of the seizure is painful, but the procedure to remove the key portion of brain tissue is even more painful.

To be sedated while the grid is in place won't work because it is unlikely any seizures will materialize. In this case, seizures are necessary to be able to end them. I think you get the picture.

Knowing Erica, the idea that she might not go back to Mayo for a third procedure never crossed my mind. It wasn't even considered. And, I haven't asked that. I just know it.

Because she's spent so much time at Mayo, the wonderful doctors and nurses there know that she is an intensely loyal Razorback fan. They had some fun at her expense a few times.

A cardiologist checking her heart just before her final surgery backed away twice from monitors. He faked alarm then finally said, "I hear something unusual in there. I've heard it before, I think. Sounds like, 'Go Hogs, Go Hogs, Go Hogs?'"

Another doctor, when told of Erica's favorite team, almost had her come out of her bed one morning with these words: "Arkansas, that's the school that used to be good at basketball, right?" She was strapped to a host of monitors and sedated. It was a lucky thing for that doctor. I know Erica. She would have won that fight.

One of her friends could have taken up the fight. Jim's hobby used to be to handle the paperwork and travel plans for Ron Brewer's AAU basketball team that featured current Razorback Ronnie Brewer. Ronnie called Erica on the phone the night before her last surgery to wish her well.

I've made a few calls to the Lewis cell phone to send our family's love and thoughts, too. And, Jim has often read to Erica the inspirational thoughts that dominate the HI.com message board. There is little doubt that Erica is the HI.com family's favorite player.

Erica's successful surgery was mentioned Monday night on SportsRap, honoring her as our nightly Ford Built Tough Razorback. I know this about Erica. There's never been anyone tougher.

That small radio show honor came just after Jim phoned me to pronounce Erica "all there." I laughed about that at the time, but there is always worry when brain tissue is removed. I understood the call and it's importance.

This story runs in the toys and games department. I understand that. But this one is about real life. Here's wishing Erica a wonderful new life.

CLAY HENRY IS THE PUBLISHER OF HAWGS ILLUSTRATED, A STEPHENS MEDIA GROUP PUBLICATION. HIS COLUMN APPEARS EACH FRIDAY. E-MAIL: CLAY@NWAONLINE.NET

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