BY JEREMY SCHNEIDER | MIRROR SPORTS — It was supposed to be just another practice for Skyelar Warncke.
Warncke and the Panthers girls basketball team were getting ready for the next day’s game against Anthony Wayne as she entered the final month of her junior season. Out of nowhere, though, Warncke began feeling ill and asked to sit.
The next morning, Warncke’s mom took her to the doctor’s office, and beginning a harrowing few weeks during which she was hospitalized three times for a total of 18 days and had part of her lung removed.
“There was a lot going on,” Skyelar said. “I didn’t have time to think about what was going on. I just did what they said. It was scary.”
Not that you would know it now. Warncke battled and made it back in time for her senior season as a starting guard for the Panthers.
“She lost 15 pounds, she looked so frail,” said Warncke’s mom, Michelle Robinson. “Seeing her persevere … some kids would have been done, but I’m proud of what she’s accomplished. She worked hard.”
Warncke went home from that practice in February and slept through the night. When she woke up feeling no better, Robinson took her to see a doctor. After a little bit of a runaround, they finally found themselves in a medical office.
“We thought maybe it was a pulled muscle,” Robinson said. “I don’t know if they would have done a chest X-ray if I hadn’t asked for it. Then the pediatrician’s office called and said to take her to the ER right away.”
During her first hospital visit, doctors put a chest tube in Warncke, and when blood began coming out, they knew the issue was more serious.
After they found 1,200 milliliters of blood in her chest cavity — about a third of the amount of blood in a human body — doctors determined Warncke had a hemopneumothorax, an accumulation of air and blood in the pleural cavity.
Doctors found Warncke has blebs as well, or what amounts to blisters on her lungs. As Robinson explained it, when the blisters burst, they released air into Warncke’s chest cavity, preventing her lungs from fully inflating.
Over three separate trips to the hospital, the prognosis went from Warncke being able to return to the team in two weeks to her needing major surgery in which a portion of her lung was removed and the resulting months of physical therapy.
“It was quite an experience,” Robinson said. “When you’re in that, you just go by what they say. Then, after the fact, you get on your phone and look it up and say, ‘On my gosh.’ You realize how bad it really was.”
Even through the hospital stays and surgeries, the times her blood pressure would drop to 80/50 while her pulse would jump to 150 or even 170 and the grueling therapy sessions, Warncke knew she would be back on the basketball court for her senior season.
“I never really thought I wasn’t going to be able to,” Warncke said. “The whole time I knew I would be able to if I worked for it. It was a lot of work and I got discouraged at first, but once I got all the work done, I knew I’d be back.
“It’s the only sport I do, it’s my favorite thing. Even at physical therapy, they had me dribbling and passing and stuff, because they knew that’s what I love to do.”
Over the summer, Warncke entertained the thought of being the team manager, just to stay involved with the program. She went through physical therapy three times a week through the end of July with the hope of actually playing and not staying on the bench.
“I was still kind of iffy even after all that, so I would come to open gyms and just shoot around,” Warncke said. “After the first time I was able to scrimmage at open gyms, I knew it was not worth it to miss out on everything. After that first time, I knew I could push through and do it for this season.”
Warncke has started nine of the Panthers’ 10 games this season. As coach Rafael Soler puts it, though, her impact on the team can’t be easily summed up in a box score.
“For her to be back in this situation, giving us valuable minutes, starting for us, it’s just incredible,” Soler said. “She’s been through a lot. For her to have that fighting spirit, that’s inspiring. It’s something we all love seeing.”
One of the hurdles to overcome for an athlete returning after major surgery is beginning to trust their body again. Warncke said practices at the beginning of the season helped her get over that, and now she doesn’t think much about it on the court.
Doctors have placed few restrictions on Warncke’s activity, ruling out snowboarding, scuba diving and doing BMX tricks.
“You forget about it sometimes because she’s playing like nothing happened,” Soler said. “I love everything she’s doing for us.”
Always interested in the medical field, Warncke’s personal experiences have helped her settle on pursuing an education and career as a pediatric nurse. First, though, is the matter of the rest of her final season on a basketball court.
After getting a week of rest from games around Christmas, the Panthers return to the court next week against Scott and Warncke will be there, enjoying a senior season that was nearly taken away.