Prep Softball: From Dodging Death to the Batter’s Box For One Last Run

Images from the District 4 2B softball championship game between Pe Ell-Willapa Valley and Adna at Borst Park in Centralia on Saturday, May 18, 2019.

ADVERSITY: Adna’s Emily Sliva Sustained Injury in 2018 that Almost Ended Her Life

By Matt Baide

mbaide@chronline.com

This time last year, Adna’s Emily Silva was keeping fastpitch stats from a wheelchair on the sidelines. She was disappointed to be off the field, but lucky to be alive.

Only a few months earlier, she woke up with a sore ankle — what doctors, coaches and peers thought to be a simple sprain. It turned out to be a near-fatal staph infection that very nearly took her life.

Silva could have very easily given up on her love of playing sports, but that’s not her.

Her return to Pirate fastpitch this spring is a triumph over the adversity of her past year, and an example of how a love of sports can motivate a person to recover from a near-fatal illness.

Now a senior at Adna High School, Emily was a three sport athlete for the Pirates and started on the varsity squads for soccer, basketball and fastpitch in her sophomore year.

In soccer, she was a starter in the midfield on a team that has reached the final four the last six seasons.

“She works well with her other teammates. Her and Payton (Aselton) were working super good at centermid. I was looking forward to that this last year because she was taking initiative,” Adna soccer coach Juli Aselton said. “She was a strong player, a smart player. She was just a very positive person, no matter how many times she would maybe get hurt or something and I’ve seen that through all of her sports.”

In basketball, she was a starter at forward for the Pirate basketball team.

“The last five or six games she played in, she was really playing well. She averaged eight points a game. She was one of those kids that kind of did the dirty work,” said Adna girls basketball coach Chris Bannish. “She was our floor leader, as odd as it sounds. She was the one that echoed all the plays that Payton called out. She was very vocal and she was our best defender at the time.”

Fastpitch was Emily’s first love, and she was one of the best hitters the Pirates had her sophomore year.

“She was a good player, she was one of their best hitters three years ago as a sophomore,” Adna softball coach Bruce Pocklington said. “It was kind of devastating not to have her last year, let alone this year. We could have used her both years in a position and she would have been playing every day for us and made our team much better.”

Not only was she a great three sport athlete, she put in the time throughout the year to get better at all three sports.

“She’s a really good athlete, she would have loved to play college but she’s a book girl. She gets a 4.0, she’s valedictorian this year,” Emily’s mom Hollie Sliva-Paulin said. “She’s always been focused on going to college but her love for batting and playing has just, she was great. She would have played, she’s spent a lot of hours with Ken Gray up at Gray’s Field, with Chris Moore.”

Everything was going great until February 2018. Emily got out of bed one day and while everything seemed normal, something went wrong in her right ankle.

“It was weird because I was perfectly fine, felt perfectly fine and I got out of bed and my ankle had kind of locked up so it felt weird,” Emily said. “Throughout the day, it kind of started bothering me for no reason. It started getting puffy and stuff so Bannish and Patrick Richardson told me I sprained my ankle.”

That was the diagnosis among the people that Emily talked to, whether it was her basketball coach or the Centralia hospital.

“She came to practice and she said ‘You’re not going to believe what happened.’ We were nearing districts, she’s playing the best basketball she’s ever played,” Bannish said. “She says I rolled my ankle and I said well at practice? Because I didn’t see you do it. She’s like, no I rolled it getting out of bed, and I was like, what? To me, it sounded like, god, it just couldn’t be just getting out of bed and rolling her ankle. It didn’t make sense.”

Emily tried treating it the way you treat a sprained ankle: ice buckets, soaking it and taping it up and wait for the swelling to subside in a couple of days.

But that didn’t happen.

“It was just getting worse and worse and worse so we went to the (Centralia) hospital and they said I had a sprained ankle and nothing was wrong,” Emily said. “So I went back home and throughout like the next two weeks, I got super sick and I lost 30 pounds, like from puking and I was super sick.”

It was at this point that Emily’s family started to worry that this might be far more serious than a sprain..

Sliva-Paulin took a look at options and took Emily to Vancouver as well as the Chehalis Children’s Clinic and was recommended an MRI. After more bloodwork, X-rays and an MRI at Centralia, the hospital said she had torn ligaments and said she should see a foot specialist for surgery.

“She was septic the whole time, no torn ligaments,” Sliva-Paulin noted. “There she sat all week at home, went and saw the foot specialist. (I) took her back to Lisa Burley who put her on IV, she was getting sicker and sicker. (We) couldn’t figure it out.”

During this process, Emily lost more than 30 pounds, going from 148 to 117. It was at this point that Sliva-Paulin was advised to take Emily to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

“Lisa Burley said grab your stuff, take her straight to Mary Bridge, don’t make any stops,” Sliva-Paulin said. “We got there, they called a person down who took one look at her foot, stuck a needle in it and just pulled stuff right out and she was septic.”

Finally, the family got a diagnosis — Emily had a staph infection in her right ankle, which occurred from a floor burn sustained during a basketball game that entered her bloodstream and affected her ankle that required two surgeries.

“I didn’t really know what it was, but they kind of like explained it and I was like I don’t know how you would get that but they told me it was from a floor burn that I had got on the basketball floor,” Emily said. “They said it was just bacteria that had collected in there and it attacked my foot when I twisted it that morning.”

The doctors were shocked at what they found during her surgeries.

“When I got there after my first surgery, they said that they had removed three huge puss pockets. The doctor said in his 50 years, they were the biggest puss pockets he’s ever seen,” Emily said. “He said I’m lucky that I didn’t have to amputate my foot, and I should have probably died but I was super healthy enough, like since I was in sports, I was super fit and healthy so that’s what kept me alive.”

Sliva-Paulin said it was a scary time for Emily and the family.

“He took her to surgery and came out and he said I’m telling you right now because of her health and her athletic-ness and strong muscle is the only reason this child is alive right now,” Sliva-Paulin said. “He said you should have been burying her about five days ago.”

Emily’s sister Ellie was a freshman on the basketball team during all of this and had to deal with playing basketball while thinking about her sister in the hospital.

“It was hard for me because it was my freshman year and I didn’t have my sisters going to districts with us and stuff and I had to worry about her in the hospital while I had to go play,” Ellie said. “Before we played in Castle Rock against Mossyrock in the 2018 season, I went up to Mary Bridge before that game, so I got to see her and we talked about the game and then I went and played, so that was good.”

After finally recovering enough to go home, she was limited to a wheelchair for three months while needing a PICC line IV to her heart for two months.

Even in a wheelchair, there was nothing that was going to stop Emily from joining the softball team that spring to be with her teammates.

“Softball started up and I paid the fees and she just wheelchaired it right out and the walker and kept stats,” Sliva-Paulin said.

Pocklington knew he had to find a role for Emily and decided with her academic prowess, scorekeeper was a great option.

“Last year with her injury, I wanted her to be a part of it so she came in and I gave her that role as being a scorekeeper,” Pocklington said. “She was just phenomenal, asking questions, how do I rule that, how do I do this? She became probably one of the best scorekeepers I’ve ever had.”

The Pirates finished fourth at state last year with Emily keeping stats the whole way.

Even though she was a great scorekeeper, Emily didn’t want to do it again in her senior year.

“Last year, it sucked because my sophomore year, I was a varsity starter for all three sports and so to sit and watch everyone play knowing softball is my favorite sport and I loved being on the field and the court with my friends, it was hard,” Emily said. “It sucked but they were all super motivating and they always pushed me and like hey, next year, next year. Abby Kruger, was one of my good friends, she took me to physical therapy sometimes, was always around kind of motivating me to get here.”

Emily had to go through six months of physical therapy with the goal of playing all three sports her senior year. She was striving to get back to play soccer in the fall, just six months after her injury.

“We just wanted to keep her in the loop as you are a player on this team,” Aselton said. “You walk out with the team, you have a uniform. If at any time, you get cleared and you can play, we’re happy to have you whether it be five minutes a game or not.”

Emily tried to play soccer but it just wasn’t in the cards, but she was a part of the team the whole season as the Pirates reached the final four once again and earned a third place trophy.

“Soccer was the hardest probably because this year, I didn’t get to play soccer at all. So I had to sit and watch all year but a lot of the same girls that I’m playing softball with now I played soccer with,” Emily said. “I got a ton of support from them because they always wanted me coming. I went to all the practices and games with them and they were always talking to me, saying they were happy I was there.”

Even though she didn’t get to play, she was still a big motivator for the team and earned the award as voted on by the team as most inspirational.

“I think she would have got that vote even if she was still playing just because she comes out there and is just, she’s never down when she’s out there. She’s always picking the team up, but I think just her resiliency and the fact that she was really sick, she could have died,” Aselton said. “She was that sick and that hurt and the fact that she worked all the time to try to get herself strong again and for the other girls to see that and say, gosh, if she can be at practice and she can come to every game and she can still be positive, we can be positive.”

Basketball season came next in the winter and Bannish tried to find a role for Emily even if she wasn’t ever able to play.

“We always kept her involved because they’re family friends. Her dad was one of my little league coaches when I was a kid, they grew up in the (Willapa) Valley area so there was a connection there,” Bannish said. “She did all the summer stuff as far as being involved. She wasn’t released to do anything yet and we just said, if you’re able to play, you can play but if not, you can still be a part of it.”

Emily was cleared to play in November and she was able to play in some varsity games this season.

“Basketball was a little different because I wasn’t supposed to be playing basketball at all and then like halfway through the season, they were like, well if you want to play a few games, you can so I ended up playing,” Emily said. “That was probably the hardest mentally because I hadn’t done anything in a year. So to get back into that and start doing it, Bannish and just my friends and Casey Dotson were super supportive and they always, they were pushing me a lot and trying to figure out what movements I could do that would bother me more or less.”

While she was only able to play in spurts of a minute or two, she practiced with the team and was able to execute whatever she was asked while she was on the court. Bannish noted that she was most effective in coaching up younger players who were tasked with similar responsibilities as she was before the injury.

“Where she was the most reliable was she knew, she’s very smart so she knows everything that I want and so if someone is struggling with a play or what not, she knows so she’s able to help explain that to the youth,” Bannish said. “Somebody like Faith Wellander who’s a freshman coming in and kind of playing her spot, she’s very good at (saying), ‘here is what he’s trying to say to you with the situation.’ ”

In her first days back playing, Sliva-Paulin was nervous for Emily to get back out on the court.

“She went back to basketball this year, which she can’t run like the rest of them anymore,” Sliva-Paulin said. “I know she’s in pain. Every time, she’s still aggressive if she can get in there. Me and her grandma are the first one to be clutching chairs when she falls down.”

After basketball season ended in the district tournament, it was finally time for Emily’s favorite sport, fastpitch.

“I love it. Softball has always been my favorite sport, so actually being able to be out here my senior year is super nice and being able to actually get in and play varsity games, I’m super happy,” Emily said. “Before this year, they told me I wasn’t going to be able to play sports at all this year but since I rehabbed so well, they told me I was going to be able to play and so I’m super happy I pushed myself because I don’t know what I would have done if I couldn’t play this year. It would have been super upsetting.”

Even with the injury, Emily still participates in every practice working on her craft. Pocklington gets her into the game wherever he can.

“I really thought she would recover a little bit better than she did, but her foot is not very good, so she hits for us. She’s played defense late in games, she’s a hitter, she’s still a hitter with a bad foot,” Pocklington said. “She’s probably going to pinch hit for us in key situations and she has a couple times this year already and been successful. I just love her to death because lots of people would have quit and she just stuck with it. I was really hoping she’d have a full recovery because she would improve this team immensely from where we’re at right now.”

Emily has some big goals for the Pirates to achieve this season.

“I want to continue to be able to play and hit and be a part of the team and I’m hoping that we win state,” Emily said. “I’m just super excited to be a part of the team and go with them and do all of this with them.”

One of Emily’s goals was to win a district title, but the Pirates were blanked 7-0 by Pe Ell-Willapa Valley in the district title game last Saturday. Adna opens the tournament at 11 a.m. on Friday against Lake Roosevelt and will try to send off Emily with the title she’s hoping for.

After the tournament this weekend in Yakima and graduation, Emily plans on attending Eastern Washington University. It’s been more than a year since her injury and it doesn’t appear she’ll ever make a full recovery.

“I went to the doctor a couple months ago and they told me that everything, my bones in my ankle all had like collapsed. I have severe arthritis in it. They said basically my motion and everything is not going to get better,” Emily said. “We talked about doing an ankle fusion, which would fuse my bones together so I couldn’t move them at all, but I don’t want to do that yet so we’re still going to doctors to see if there’s other options but no one really specializes in replacing ankle cartilage necessarily. We’re kind of just going around trying to figure things out because as of right now, it’s not going to get better.”

The injury doesn’t apply to just sports, as the pain is constant throughout her day. However, she finds ways to deal with it  — she had the potential to not be playing anything at all, and is appreciative of just being alive.

“I’m super thankful for it … because a lot of people don’t understand what it’s like to be able to come out here and play every day, and like knowing, they told me that I should have had my foot amputated or I should have died,” Emily said. “It changes coming out here because I want to work a lot harder than previous. When people are complaining, I’m just like you’re here, you’re lucky to be here, work hard. It just changes your mindset as a whole and I’m a lot more positive about things now, I don’t complain as much.”

Not only does Emily have a more positive outlook on life, she has inspired the Adna community around her through her determination to get back on the field.

“I’m just so proud of her, 100 percent. I wish there was more I could do to let her know how strong she is because I’ve watched people, kids get hurt and they just don’t come back to practices. They don’t come back and play, they’re not forced to follow through and help their team,” Sliva-Paulin said. “The first day I would say, yes you can go, she was out there with a pick line to her heart in a wheelchair sitting on the sidelines because to her, it’s not just her, it’s a team. That’s how she personally looks at it, that’s her team and she will follow through 100 percent. She would never let anybody down, there’s not a lot of teenagers you can say that have that in them.”

She will graduate this year as a valedictorian and while she wasn’t able to accomplish everything that she wanted to in athletics, everyone in Adna knows she will move on to achieve great things.

“I guess for me, it’s shown me how to be more positive and to work harder. I want people to know, you don’t get to be out here always and there’s always things that are going to get in your way but you just need to push through it,” Emily said. “Work hard, be positive, don’t dwell over negative things necessarily. Turn them into something good and make something out of it.”

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