Radical Rebound

Ironwood Ridge senior bounces back from a brain aneurism

It's been 13 months since a dull pain in Mia Schneider's brain threw her world into complete disarray.

Mia, who was 16 years old at the time, remembers the day of Nov. 13, 2016 being like any other. She was spending the afternoon with her boyfriend.

She remembers the dull pain, followed by darkness. She suffered a stroke, losing consciousness in the chaotic moments after the episode. She lay motionless on her bedroom floor, unable to breathe.

She woke up under the blinding florescent light of her room at Banner University Hospital, confused about the events that transpired.

How could Mia, who starred as a point guard on the Nighthawks girls' basketball team, suddenly fall victim to such a fate?

Doctors initially believed the teenager had suffered a drug overdose, given the rapid ascent of symptoms, before an MRI revealed copious amounts of blood on her brain.

It was clear that Mia had suffered an aneurysm—a burst blood vessel in the brain—and would need emergency surgery to save her life.

Her surgery was a success, though she was far from being in the clear. She woke from her operation to the horrible realization that the entire right side of her body was paralyzed.

That loss of feeling eventually subsided three days later, though she'd soon have to relearn the things she took for granted.

She drifted in and out of consciousness in the days to come, with stabbing pain pulsating throughout her head—but took solace in her good luck against a medical episode with a mortality rate of 40 percent, according to the National Library of Medicine.

She had a litany of questions about how she found herself in the sterile white room and seeped with the anger of not knowing what was next.

"I just wanted to be close to the people I loved, and it really showed me who's there for me, and who is going to love me unconditionally," Mia said. "I felt a lot of anger about why was I there and why did this happen to me—that kind of thing. I was happy because now I can look back and appreciate how amazing it is that I'm alive, but when I was in the moment, it was hard."

Her father, Jeff, remembers how scared he and Mia's mother, Nicole, were in the aftermath of her episode.

They were going through every parent's living hell—not knowing whether their daughter would recover or whether she'd ever be able to return to normalcy.

"You have ups and downs," Jeff said. "We spent a couple of weeks not knowing what was going to happen at all. And then she started to recover, and from there, things improved, like a miracle."

Miracle is an apt description of the recovery process that occurred.

Mia would spend just shy of two months in the concrete confines of the campus hospital, before easing back into the second semester of her junior year at Ironwood Ridge.

Trying to focus on her schoolwork was brutal, as Mia had to reteach herself how to properly manage her time and handle her course load from home.

She was still too weak to climb stairs or attempt to return to a normal classroom setting but got by with the help of her teachers and school staff.

"It was like restarting my brain, like hitting restart," she said. "It was really hard for me. My grades weren't amazing, but you can see on my transcript that I'm progressing. And then this year, I'm back at school, and it's just great being back in this environment."

Mia, who plans to go to the University of Arizona, hopes to one day teach special education, and she has slowly learned how to manage her time, as she did before her episode.

She appreciates everything her friends and family have done for her, as well as random strangers she meets every day around town.

"It's just the little things I'm more grateful for, and I've always been grateful for my friends and family," Mia said. "My grandparents, who were there every single day in the hospital when they didn't have to be, but they were. And my best friend, who came and visited me whenever she could. It's just those little things that made my day and made me stronger internally and made me want to get out of the hospital more and more."

She's also thankful to everyone that's helped her catch up with her academic work over the last year, helping her show up for grueling hours of physical therapy, work and tutoring.

"I've made some amazing friends here at Ironwood Ridge, mostly through basketball," she said. "If I didn't have those connections here, then I don't think I would be where I am today."

Mia's focus on teaching comes from the hours she spent with a cousin of hers with special needs.

That experience, combined with the joy she gets out of helping other people, inspired her desire to guide the next generation of students.

"I've always loved teaching," she said. "I've always been drawn to helping people, and I've had some great teachers in the past, and it just inspired me to want to be one of them."

Schneider's progress and clean bill of health in her subsequent check-ups instill hope that she'll be able to lace up her sneakers again this season.

She's been a fixture at Nighthawk practices this winter, soaking up insight and getting a few shots in with Coach Ken Leikem.

She says getting to hit the hardwood again is the most therapeutic part of her ordeal, as the sport was the thing she missed most during her long recovery.

"When I go to practice, it's not like I'm really running through the plays, but I do try to shoot whenever I can," she said. "When I get on the court, I'm shooting a lot of air balls and everything, so I try to stay on it. My shot isn't 100 percent, but I do try to practice it whenever I can."

Leikem, who calls Schneider one of the best players he's had in his long coaching career, is thrilled to have the senior at practice.

He is holding out hope to get Schneider some game action later this season, perhaps on the team's Senior Night, against Cienega on Feb. 1.

"We came up with a plan so she can come and be as much of a part of the team as she can, and take part in our Senior Night celebration," Leikem said. "So, we know she's on board with everything, and we're blessed that she's still hanging around helping us and that she's a part of the program, that's for sure."

Leikem hopes that Schneider's presence and backstory will serve in a way to motivate her teammates going forward. He's sure they can take something from her recovery, and that the experience will make the team better in the long run.

"Her effort and the fact that she's out here—I think that she's a great role model," Leikem said. "She's somebody that everybody should look up to and understand that no matter what hand you're dealt, that you can persevere and make the best out of life."

For Schneider, playing in the team's final home game would give order to the disarray that she's experienced.

It would, for one night at least, make all it all worth it. The pain. The long nights. The tears of sorrow and of joy.

"The perfect ending for me would probably be me scoring," she said. "I mean all my teammates want me to score. And it's not going to be a huge deal-breaker if I don't. But my major goal is to try and score on Senior Night and play just a little bit. It would make my life a thousand times better, and it would make the perfect ending for me."

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