Young athlete hopes to get back in the game after rehab at Riley

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Eberly web

A few weeks ago, Kendall Eberly couldn’t walk following a battle with transverse myelitis. Now, she is finding her footing again.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Kendall Eberly loves basketball, volleyball, tennis and cheerleading. She was looking forward to participating in all of these activities at Fountain Central High School in Veedersburg, Indiana, until complications from exposure to COVID-19 threatened her life.

Kendall Eberly smiles under face mask

The 14-year-old high school freshman tested positive for COVID on Jan. 19 and completed her 10-day quarantine without experiencing any symptoms. Soon, however, she developed encephalitis and spent several days in the hospital.

It was a few days later at home when she started complaining of pain in her back, then tingling in her legs. Within two days, she was unable to walk.

Back to the hospital she went for treatment of transverse myelitis, an inflammation of the spinal cord typically caused by a viral, bacterial or fungal infection. Recovery can take months or years in some cases.

Kendall was so weak she needed intense rehab to regain her strength, stamina and confidence, so her parents transferred her to Riley Hospital for Children’s inpatient rehab unit.

For two weeks, she worked with occupational therapist Kelly Salter, physical therapist Emily Williams, student therapist Samantha Ausnus and others to regain her mobility and independence.

The results have been astounding, says her father, Jason Eberly.

Kendall plays basketball with therapist

“If you would have told me three weeks ago that she would be doing what she’s doing today, I would have said you were crazy,” Eberly said as he watched his daughter dribble and pass a basketball and play a little volleyball during an outdoor therapy session last week at Riley.

“To see her walking on her toes right there is crazy.”

It was two days before she was to be discharged from Riley, and she couldn’t wait to get home to see her friends and family. While her school and community are small, the support from both has been huge, her dad said. A Facebook page has kept followers updated on her progress.

Kendall and her dad at Riley Children's Health

Kendall and her dad acknowledge that her spirits were low when she first arrived at Riley because no one knew for sure what to expect.

Kendall lost her mom, Kim, in 2019, but her stepmom, Amanda, has been active in her recovery, alongside Kendall’s dad.

Together, they fought through the darkness of those early days and reminded themselves to celebrate baby steps – small victories along the way.

“I always tell her to find the good in something,” Jason Eberly said.

The therapists are good, Kendall said with a smile. “They work me hard.”

“It’s a tight schedule here,” her dad agreed, “but it really impressed me the way the therapists work with them according to their interests. OT and PT worked together so great.”

Williams said Kendall’s progress has been nothing short of amazing.

“From where we started to where we are now, it’s awesome,” the physical therapist said. “She’s a hard worker; we call her the Energizer Bunny. We have to remind her to take breaks.”

Kendall is scheduled to return to school after spring break. She won’t be able to play tennis this year for school, but she will manage the team, so she will stay involved.

She will continue outpatient rehab closer to home and hopes to be able to participate in some summer workouts for basketball, something that didn’t seem possible just a few weeks ago.

“I have to give kudos to this group here at Riley,” Jason Eberly said. “They are top-notch.”

Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,