ARLINGTON, Va. - The medical saga for Clare McNulty began innocently enough in January of 2016, when she took a charge while playing defense in a home game for the Marymount women's basketball team.
"I lost control of my body and hit my head on the floor pretty hard," says McNulty, then a freshman reserve guard for the Saints. "After that, I was kind of in a haze and on the court for a few minutes."
"I couldn't hear anything and my head was spinning," adds the 2015 Woodbridge (Va.) High graduate. "I ended up scoring after that, which was pretty crazy because I was totally out of it. After a few days, I was feeling concussion-related symptoms."
McNulty didn't play anymore last season but was cleared to play in a summer league last year at Marymount.
"I was completely fine," she says after going through concussion protocol.
But last September during open gym workouts at MU, the right side of her face went numb.
McNulty eventually was looked at by Dr. Elizabeth Delasobera, the Team Physician at MU, who diagnosed that the MU sophomore has 'Chiari Malformation.'
"It is like the brain hangs a little lower in the skull than the average person and leads to some compression in that area. It is something you are born with but a lot of people have no symptoms for their whole life," Dr. Delasobera said. "The symptoms came back but there was no trauma per se" last September.
"Apparently I've had Chiari all of my life but never had any of the symptoms until I hit my head," according to McNulty.
"Dr. Delasobera stuck to her guns" with the finding, said Ashlee Rogers, the Saints' head coach.
McNulty, who is interested in pre-med, has not played this season but was able to complete her academic courses during the fall semester.
The MU sophomore had to drop her classes earlier this semester as she prepares for brain surgery slated to be done by Dr. Faheem Sandhu on February 21 at Georgetown Hospital, unless a second opinion on February 16 sheds new information.
Her legs get numb at times, she gets bad headaches, has neck and shoulder pain with dizziness, fatigue, hearing loss and blurry vision.
In a show of her support, players and coaches with the Saints basketball team dyed a piece of their hair purple for Saturday's home conference game with Wesley College, as purple is the official color for combatting Chiari.
"We are trying to bring awareness to this rare condition," said Rogers, whose team is 17-4 overall after a 63-49 victory over Wesley on Saturday. "I just thought it was a great idea."
The idea came from Leah Hurst, a junior point guard with the Saints.
"Clare was updating us with her situation and what was going on," said Hurst, who is from Annapolis, Maryland. "She was thinking of dyeing part of her hair purple and I thought it would be a good idea (for the team) to do it. I figured we would do it at one of our home games and I figured this weekend would be great.
McNulty appreciates the support.
"I thought it was totally cool," McNulty said. "People know about my injury; I like to keep things to myself. I thought it was a cool movement. I think it lifted a big weight off of my shoulder. I don't have to be as worried. People have my back."
McNulty said Rogers and Ryan Wildenhain, the Head of Sports Medicine, have also been very supportive over the past year.
What does McNulty hope comes out of the surgery?
"I just want to be pain free. I have some really good days and bad days," she said.
The MU sophomore hopes to return to school in the fall and rejoin the Saints roster as a player. She has been a volunteer manager for the team this season.
"She is one of the type of girls where you hear the passion in her voice. I know for a fact she would love to be on the court. She comes with us on every road trip," Hurst said.
"She has really maintained a positive attitude," said Dr. Delasobera, who has seen about five such cases in the past 10 years. "She has handled it rather remarkably. People don't understand what you are going through."
McNulty didn't play much as a freshman. But she is making a difference as a sophomore.
"She lives every day like she doesn't have it," Rogers said of Chiari. "She is doing everything she can to get back on the court one day. That is what Division III is about; you play for the love of the game."
Editor's note: David Driver is a special consultant to the MU athletic department. He can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com
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