When Bella Secaira heard on Sept. 21 that she was cleared to play softball again, she said she remained calm on the outside.
Inside, she said she was "kind of shocked" when Newport Beach orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael Gordon gave her the news.
The Newport Harbor High junior has always worked hard on the softball diamond. Secaira, a catcher, was the Daily Pilot Newport-Mesa Player of the Year last season for the Sailors.
In the past three-plus months, she's been working on rehabilitating herself after falling about 30 feet off the roof of an apartment building on June 3. She suffered a mild concussion and a collapsed lung. More serious was a spinal cord fracture that forced her to wear a neck brace for eight weeks.
Secaira went to Gordon to aide her recovery from the fracture. She has also been going to Dr. Scott Stoney of Newport Beach, for pain management and muscle recovery.
Stoney said Secaira is a special case. She did not require surgery.
"I think in the United States per year there are 11,000 spinal cord fractures like hers," Stoney said. "Out of those, approximately 5,000 have a quadriplegia result. And I think there are about 3,000 cases that result in death, and she didn't have that either. So she's a miracle in process, just because of the fact that she did not have quadriplegia and did not die from her injury. The case was really a miracle, even before I met her."
She still has her good days and bad days. When she works out, there are times when she feels weak or in pain, typically on her left side. Stoney said in the future he plans to use injection therapy on Secaira to break up muscle spasms, and also doing nerve blocks to break up the muscle tone from the nerves.
Mentally, Secaira has stayed strong. Now physically, she is also getting stronger and stronger. It's led her mom, Tiffany Etchegoyen, to say her daughter is in better shape than she even was before her accident.
"[Wednesday] I did a catching lesson with Jennifer Schroeder, the [former] UCLA catcher," Secaira said. "We were doing throw downs and I was just going 50% and she was like, 'Dude, you're even better than before you fell.' That's exciting to hear. I'm not going to stop working and I'm not going to stop pushing myself."
One doctor gave Secaira a diagnosis of no softball for seven months, but she cut that in half. She started with lower-body exercises before Gordon cleared her to do upper-body exercises. A big thing at the start of her recovery was her balance.
"That was the hardest thing, getting my balance back," she said. "That was just literally walking in a line, and walking backward in a line, without looking at the floor. It was tough, but worth it."
Secaira has returned to her club softball team, Firecrackers, and Coach Tony Rico. She's now on the club's top team, the 18-and-under Worth Gold squad. She could see game action again this weekend in Hemet, and she plans to travel to Florida in late October for a showcase.
"Whether that's just getting one at-bat, I'm fine," Secaira said. "Even if that's me striking out, I really don't care … [A traumatic experience] really opens people's eyes on how it's just a game at the end of the day. You strike out five times, your life's not over. Are you healthy? Are you happy? Then you're good."
In the spring she will be back on the high school team. Secaira, a two-time first-team All-Sunset League selection, said the team has a new coach, Russell Hartman. Tony Qualin resigned after two years.
Secaira said she expects the Sailors, who have finished 0-10 in league each of the past three years, to contend in 2012. They will have a big positive force behind the plate leading the way again.
Even medical doctors don't underestimate the value of positive thinking.
"From a medical standpoint, people who plan on doing well do well," Gordon said. "People who do not allow failure in their lives are generally pretty successful."
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