A survivor’s story: UNC women’s basketball player tells her story

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Imagine being 10 years old and having a love for basketball, looking up to players like WNBA star Maya Moore. Suddenly, you are diagnosed with a brain tumor and don’t know if you will ever be able to play the game you love again.

Ali Meyer is a junior center for the University of Northern Colorado women’s basketball team. She has overcome a lot of adversity in her life, from a brain tumor to a season-ending knee injury three days before the 2017-18 season.

Ali’s parents, Greg and Yvonne Meyer, told the story of Ali’s brain tumor and subsequent surgery.

In July 2006, Ali and her family were at a ranch in Steamboat Springs. She came inside after playing outside and was talking gibberish and saying she was hot. Her parents’ standard response was drink some water or some Gatorade.

“She woke up in the middle of the night and was projectile vomiting,” Yvonne said. “I thought she had a stomach bug, but it was getting worse and more frequent.”

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In the morning, her parents were getting ready to take her to the hospital when she came into the bathroom.

“She looked over at me and she had a seizure,” Yvonne said. “She had lost all functions except for her frontal lobe where she could talk aggressively.”

Ali was taken to the hospital, but the doctors were unsure what was wrong with her.

“The doctor who was on call came to me and said ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with her, I can’t figure it out,’” Yvonne said.

The doctor asked Yvonne what her gut was telling her, and she thought Ali might have hit her head while playing outside. The doctor said he’d do a CAT scan.

Three other people who came into the emergency room needed a CAT scan, so that might have been a sign that Ali needed one too.

“I just feel like that was a provision of the Lord,” Yvonne said.

The technician had a teddy bear and was crying. Seconds after, the doctor stormed in and grabbed Yvonne and said, “There’s something on Ali’s brain.” He yelled to the nurse to stop giving her fluid because it was hurting her. Her brain already had fluid on it from the tumor, and the fluid they were giving her just exacerbated it.

There were no neurologists in the county, so the Meyers had two choices. They could either do a flight for life, but Greg and Yvonne couldn’t go with Ali. Or, they could get an ambulance and they could go with Ali.

“I said ‘OK, let’s go flight for life,’ and he says ‘That’s the right decision!’” Yvonne said.

Ali was in a sedated coma and was taken to Children’s Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs.

“It just so happened that that was the very first week that the top neurosurgeon in the West had started a job at Children’s Memorial,” Yvonne said. “They said she was about an hour away from complete brain death.”

Ali was diagnosed with a left ventricle colloid cyst. It was the size of an egg and was sitting right in the middle of her brain. It happened at birth, and she was the second youngest person in the country to have it at the size it was.

“He operated for eight hours through a microscope to remove it,” Yvonne said. “She was in ICU for eight days and in the pediatric unit for five.”

Ali had to learn to walk and write again, but the tumor didn’t affect her memory.

“One of the only side effects is she’ll repeat stories if she’s really stressed out,” Yvonne said. “Even that I’ve noticed has improved as she’s gotten older.”

Ali had to wear a dew rag on her head for six months. She had a soft spot, so she couldn’t be bumped.

She was born in Colorado Springs. Greg and Yvonne both played collegiate soccer, and Greg even played semi-pro as a goalkeeper. Ali began playing soccer when she was 2 years old and played competitively until her sophomore year of high school. Greg and Yvonne both coached her, and her team was the most undefeated team at the local YMCA.

“She was definitely most talented at soccer,” Yvonne said. “Soccer was all around her.”

When Ali came back from the brain injury, she decided she wanted to pursue basketball more. During her sophomore year of high school and after a huge growth spurt, she said she wanted to play collegiately despite already being recruited for soccer.

“It was almost like she had to go after the thing that was going to be harder to do,” Yvonne said.

But her parents supported every decision she made.

“I was glad she chose basketball,” Greg said. “That was the right fit for her.”

In her sophomore year at Colorado Christian University, Ali’s head coach was fired in the middle of the season. She decided a change of scenery was best.

Ali ended up doing a permission to contact, which allowed schools to contact her about playing for them. Greg even met with administration at CCU and told them they owed it to Ali to let her look elsewhere.

Ali wanted to stay in Colorado, but the permission to contact didn’t allow her to transfer to a school in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, which only leaves a handful of schools. She ultimately chose the University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University and UNC.

Head coach Kamie Ethridge reached out to Ali eight hours after they received the permission to contact.

“We had played UNC in the pre-season and beat them,” Ali said. “I probably had one of the best games of my career. When I reached out to Coach E, she said ‘Yes, I remember you!’”

Ali’s career at UNC didn’t start the way she had hoped.

“Since I transferred last year, I had to redshirt,” she said. “I had surgery on my right knee, and right before the season started this year the left knee went.”

She continues to rehab her left knee and hopes to be ready for the start of next season. With Courtney Smith forced to leave the team due to health reasons, there just may be an open spot at center.

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