Monday, January 17, 2022

Adversity doesn’t slow down former Flower Mound athlete

Courtney Fields woke up feeling cold, and she couldn’t for the life of her understand why she only had one sock on.

Seconds earlier, the 24-year-old Flower Mound native and former basketball star had asked her mother, Shanta, to please grab the pair of comfy socks next to the hospital bed and put them on her feet. Like any doting mom, Shanta immediately went to the right side of the bed and slipped the first one onto her daughter’s foot. But then she stopped.

“I remember saying, ‘OK — are you going to put the other one on?’” Courtney said. “That’s when she said, ‘Baby, you don’t have a leg. They took it to save your life.’ She said a nurse told me earlier, but that’s how I remember finding out.”

Courtney had just undergone eight surgeries and an emergency above-the-knee amputation of her left leg because of a previously undetected blood clot that almost killed her. The entire time, she was in a medically-induced coma. Her journey started in late February, and she ultimately spent 28 days in ICU and a grand total of three months at Medical City Dallas.

Most people would have been overcome by a riot of emotions at that moment — devastation, anger, confusion, and even resentment. This was especially true in Courtney’s case, as none of this would have happened had she not elected to undergo a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction to avoid being the next in her family to get breast cancer.

“I was doing what we all thought was right,” she said of the mastectomy in early February. “What the doctors didn’t know at the time was that I had a blood clot. Had they known, they could have gone in and removed it, and none of this would have happened.

“When you’re making your 10- or 15-year plan for life, you don’t insert an amputation in there. But I’m alive.”

Rather than give up, Courtney is adapting to her new normal with grace and a level of confidence that has inspired friends, family, doctors, and complete strangers. She was released from the hospital in May and now wears a prosthetic leg. In November, she wrapped up a customized 9-week training course through the Adaptive Training Foundation in Carrollton. ATF is a nonprofit that started in 2014 to provide access and inclusion to individuals living with physical or traumatic impairments by empowering them through exercise and community.

“It’s usually at least a year or more before someone is physically able to come in here to ATF and start training,” said Chris Jones, an assistant trainer at ATF. His daughter, Carley, had been good friends with Courtney since middle school. “Courtney left the hospital in May and started here in September. The courage she has shown is impressive.”

Courtney was the youngest person in her class and is now looking confidently toward her future.

“I could be positive or negative about this experience. I choose to be positive,” Courtney said. “I’m 24 years old. I have what I think is a lot of life to live, so I don’t plan on letting this stop me.”

“I was living my best life”

Fields grew up here and graduated from Flower Mound High School in 2015. Not only was everyone her friend in those days, but she had a smile that could light up any room. On top of that, she was an amazing athlete.

A soccer and basketball star, she chose only to play basketball in high school and was a shooting guard on the 2015 Lady Jaguars’ team that beat Plano West to advance to the Class 6A state tournament. Though they didn’t win it all — they lost in the semifinals to Dallas Skyline — Courtney earned a scholarship to Texas A&M-Commerce.

She played three years with the Lions and eventually graduated with a Bachelor of Science in global e-learning (now higher education and learning technologies) and a Master of Science in higher education.

“Honestly, I was living my best life,” she said. “I was young, going to Dallas every weekend, and was having a great time. I had just completed my master’s degree and was already working full-time as an academic advisor for the university.”

Deep down, however, Courtney knew she was on borrowed time and needed to have a very important surgery. When she was 12, doctors confirmed that she had a mutated gene that comes with a higher risk of breast cancer. Courtney’s mother had breast cancer. Her grandmother was previously diagnosed with it. Even her dad’s sister had breast cancer.

Doctors explained that she could preventatively have a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction later on in life.

“At 12 years old, I was like, ‘Let’s do this right now. I’m ready,’” Courtney said. “We all knew that I was going to get it at some point, but they said I had to wait to have surgery until I was at least 24. Fast forward 12 years — I’m 24 years old and was trying to do what I thought was right, which was to prevent breast cancer.”

What happened next was something Courtney and her family never expected.

She had her double mastectomy and reconstruction in early February, but a complication with one of her breasts kept doctors from finishing the procedure. A follow-up surgery along with the reconstruction was scheduled for February 16.

Everything appeared to be fine, that is, until Courtney became ill six days later.

“I don’t remember any of it, but my parents said I had a hard time breathing,” she said. “They called 911, the paramedics checked all my vitals, and I was fine. But something just didn’t seem right, so I asked to go to the hospital. Even on the ride to the hospital, they didn’t have the sirens on — because they didn’t think anything was seriously wrong.”

Within minutes of arriving at the hospital, Courtney’s heart stopped. Doctors revived her, but she coded two more times after that. It was then that doctors realized she had an undiagnosed blood clot, and the chest compressions from trying to revive her had caused it to burst and spread throughout her body, she said.

CareFlite took Courtney to Medical City Dallas, and her parents had to make a life-changing decision.

“My friends couldn’t understand why I wasn’t screaming and yelling and sad over the fact that I lost my leg,” Courtney said. “But I always looked at it as the right decision. Had they not done it, I wouldn’t be here right now. I couldn’t imagine being my parents in this situation. This was during COVID-19, so I only got two hours a day with them, and they had to alternate. They even stayed in a hotel next door.”

Adapting to a new life

Courtney may not have heard of the Adaptive Training Foundation had it not been for a chance encounter while being fitted for her prosthetic leg. An older gentleman mentioned ATF as a potential option.

“As he explained what it was, I knew I had to get in. And by the grace of God, I did,” she said. “The workouts are catered to our needs, and you learn how to adapt. I needed someone to push me, but this place has always been more than just the physical part. They help you with the mental part, too. We focus a lot on breathing, and we talk a lot of things out. You’re around others who have been through similar struggles, and that’s important. My parents have been great, but there are just some things they won’t get.

“I’m around people who are just like me. It’s a special place.”

Phil Quintana, a trainer at ATF, agreed and added that he’s never been more proud of Courtney.

“Everything we throw at her, she’s got it,” Quintana said. “She’s awesome. She’s on her game.”

Courtney said one of her immediate training goals is to get to a point where she can walk fluidly without a limp and regain her independence. She’s already driving again and has learned to care for herself without help. But eventually, she’d like to move out and go back to work.

“I’ll be 25 in December, and it’s important to me that I get back out there and do what 25-year-old women do,” she said. “I see what the other people in this training course have done, and it has shown me that it’s possible for me, too. I’m an open book. If I can help anyone else who has gone through something like this, then I will. I would never have signed up for [losing my leg]. But it happened, and I choose to make the best of it.”

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