Health returning for junior with lyme disease

A very personal story became very public in February when junior Rebecca Silinkski faced fans and a television audience during Vanderbilt's Lyme Disease Awareness promotion. VandyMania caught up with Rebecca at a charity event to see how her health was progressing.

Seven months ago a green-hued spotlight captured a special evening on the sidelines and court at Memorial Gymnasium. It was Senior Night for Amy Malo, Jennifer Risper and Christina Wirth, and a regionally televised game would capture 18th-ranked Vanderbilt's 73-70 upset of third-ranked Auburn on February 19.

Those cameras also caught a lime green wave of support for Rebecca Silinski, the 6-3 junior forward who saw reserve action in 16 games prior to falling ill with lyme disease. Blood tests showed that the western Pennsylvania born player contracted the infection from a tick bite, suffering debilitating setbacks that continue to affect her family as well.

Lime green t-shirts, green laces, ribbons and various shades splashing the spectator sections during Lyme Disease Awareness night showed Rebecca how very much people cared.

A homegrown class project developed by Rebecca's teammates for a senior project successfully raised the public's consciousness with a video testimonial, press coverage and television commentary mentioning her family's personal struggle with the illness. (For more on that night, see VandyMania's archived article, "Black and Gold … and Lime Green.")

In early November, Rebecca will receive a doctor's call that may halt the antibiotics she's ingested for several months to keep joint pain, fatigue and muscle aches at bay. Memory loss is also a symptom. "You forget stuff a little bit. It's frustrating that I'm not picking things up as quickly as I used to."

Another blood test will reveal if the infection from the tick bite has disappeared. In the meantime, Rebecca has no restrictions on play and is participating fully in team practices.

"I'm just getting back into shape and lifting. It feels so good to be out doing this again." She's allowing herself grace with practice and missed shots, reminding herself that "it's been six months.'"

Rebecca is incredibly grateful for the support she and her family have received. "It's amazing how the team and coaches and community of people I'm around have shown such support. It's hard, especially having a 15-year-old sister who is struggling really bad. That adds a whole dimension with the stress and concern about her."

Although Rebecca's dad and two sisters are dealing with disease under the care of her mom who thankfully has not become ill, it is 15-year-old Kaitlyn who continues to suffer the most.

"She has a different variation of it. Kaitlyn has extreme sensitivity to light and sound, and for a while, she wasn't able to eat so they had talked about putting in a feeding tube. She's pretty much paralyzed. She's going through the worst of the worst," Rebecca recounts.

Last summer both Silinskis were on the homecoming court at Rebecca's former high school. "I went back to crown the next queen and she was the seventh grade representative. It's difficult now seeing her, and she's dead weight when you lift her out of her chair into her wheelchair. It's a struggle knowing a 15-year-old should be getting her driver's license at the end of the month and now she can't do anything for herself."

As time moves on, healing may come in different stages, and Rebecca realizes that her Vanderbilt family's positive influence has already made a difference.


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