CORVALLIS, Ore. -- As a coach's wife, Heidi Pomeday is used to celebrating holidays after the fact. When you're married to someone who has to be married to his job, anniversaries and birthdays take a back seat to games, recruiting and film study. But on Feb. 14, Heidi and her husband Nate, an assistant coach for Oregon State's men's basketball team, will celebrate. Valentine's Day in the Pomeday household is all about their daughter Everly, whose surgery on that day two years ago changed her life -- and theirs.
Sunday at noon, Pomeday and the Beavers (13-10, 5-6 Pac-12) will go for their second win over Oregon this season, as OSU tries to claw its way up the conference standings. Earlier this week, Pomeday joked that playing No. 2 Arizona each week would be less pressure-packed than playing the Beavers' in-state rival. But each Valentine's Day, he's reminded of what real pressure -- and fear -- can be like. For Nate, perspective arrives daily in the form of a giggly, blonde 2-year-old obsessed with Barbie and basketball.
Two years ago today, Everley went through an intense, four-hour surgery when she was just seven months old that left her in a body cast for seven weeks. Everley was born with clubfoot, hip dysplasia and congenital dislocation of the patella (the medical term for the kneecap being on the backside of the leg). That she can walk today -- and run and jump -- is a small miracle.
"It's pretty awesome," Heidi says, "what modern medicine can do."
When Heidi was pregnant, ultrasounds revealed their little girl would be born with clubfoot, which worried the parents-to-be. But after some googling, Heidi discovered that standout athletes like quarterback Troy Aikman and figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi at one time suffered from clubfoot, and that surgery shortly after birth could correct it. Even Angus Brandt, the Beavers' starting center, was born with clubfoot.
"With Angus, that made us feel relief, and OK, everything can be fine," Nate says. "And maybe a little bit of, 'This isn't such a big deal, because here's this person who's in our lives and is meant to be in our lives, and he went through it and he's fine.'"
But when Everley arrived in July 2011, it became clear there were more problems. Heidi went into labor three weeks early -- and one day before Nate returned from a recruiting trip. Stuck in Las Vegas at the Adidas 64 tournament, Nate couldn't get a flight back to Oregon until the next day. So he didn't see that, when Everley came out via Caesarean-section, her legs were twisted up behind her head and that she looked "like a mermaid baby," Heidi says.
Three days after her birth, weighing less than four pounds, Everley underwent the first of "serial casting," a procedure in which her left leg and foot were casted to cure her clubfoot. In September, she had a tendonectomy, her first major surgery. In all, she spent most of the first six months of her life in a harness to cure her hip dysplasia, which left her hip in constant risk of dislocation.
Nate and Heidi still aren't sure how much pain Everley was in -- she cried and screamed for hours, Heidi says, but that could have because she was hurt, or because she was born early. The worst part, Nate says, is that "because she couldn't move, you couldn't ever cuddle her."
As her clubfoot and hip dysplasia healed, Nate's and Heidi's concerns turned to Everley's knees. She was so knock-kneed, Nate says, that he could move her kneecap all the way to the side. Doctors at Oregon Health & Science University advised Nate and Heidi to wait it out, and said if Everley wasn't "normal" by 3 or 4, they could do surgery. Unsatisfied with that answer, Heidi accompanied Nate on a recruiting trip to Seattle and paid a visit to the Seattle Children's Hospital, hopeful for a second opinion.
The surgeon originally scheduled to see them wasn't available, but they were assured another would be. They were first greeted by a resident, who upon examining the x-rays declared them "way over my head," and fetched Dr. Vincent Mosca, the chief of children's orthopedics. The Pomedays were peeved at first until the nurse told them, "This guy operates on princes in Saudi Arabia -- he's legit." Mosca took one look at Everley and diagnosed her with congenital dislocation of the patella.Like most mothers, Heidi wondered what she had done wrong for her baby to suffer from so many deformities and so much pain. She wasn't on any medication, and ate an organic diet through her pregnancy. But Mosca assured Heidi it wasn't her fault -- it's a rare occurrence for a baby to be born with all three defects; the odds, he said, were about one in a billion. "We won the genetic lottery," Heidi jokes now.
Mosca recommended surgery as soon as possible. But the details terrified Nate and Heidi: During the course of almost four hours, doctors would cut the tendons and muscles in her left leg, realign everything and put her kneecap where it belonged; essentially, surgeons would create a groove for her kneecap to rest. Just seven months old, she would be put under anesthesia. They scheduled the surgery for Feb. 14, 2012 in Seattle, two days after the Beavers hosted Washington in Corvallis.
"You just do what you have to do to give your baby the best opportunity," Heidi says, "but there's a point when you realize, this is dangerous, she's so little and she's going under, so you kiss her and smother her and love her as much as you can."
While the family juggled doctors appointments and work -- Oregon allows double coverage insurance, which meant Heidi needed to keep her job as a pharmacy benefit supervisor so obscene medical bills didn't pile up -- Nate continued to coach as the Beavers compiled a 21-15 record.
"He's the consummate professional," says Oregon State coach Craig Robinson. "He must have been staying up late or getting up early to make sure none of the players, nor the staff, could feel any kind of change in his work ethic."
Heidi and Nate celebrated Valentine's Day in the hospital with champagne and chocolate covered strawberries as they waited for Everley to come out of surgery. In a waiting room, heavy with emotion, Nate remembers looking around the room at other parents "whose kids are having life-threatening surges, life-altering surgeries. And our little girl is in one of those rooms, too. It was awful."
In a body cast for seven weeks post surgery, Everley took her first steps on July 25, 2012, the day after her first birthday, by walking around the living room at her grandmother's house. She now looks like your typical 2-year-old. The girl who never crawled now walks nonstop, and she talks all the time, too, asking her dad about the llamas and school buses and horses that they drive by each morning on their way to daycare. She understands "Daddy has to go coach," loves to hold hands with Benny Beaver, OSU's mascot, and is content to watch Oregon State games as long as Nate waves at her before tip-off. She has a sweet disposition, with a little bit of spice. "She's going to be a point guard," Nate predicts. "Kinda bossy, telling people where to go, taking the emotion out of things and so, so tough." The only routine that separates her from most toddlers comes at night, when Heidi straps Everley into special boots connected by a bar that assure her bones continue to grow as they should.
"There wasn't much normal about this round of parenting," Heidi says. "My mom bought me so many cute little dresses and clothes. Well, those never got worn, because how do you fit that over a body cast? But you realize that's superficial, and you just want your child to have a normal life."
Because of her clubfoot, Everley will have to buy special shoes the rest of her life -- her left foot is smaller than her right -- and some studies indicate women who have suffered from clubfoot can never wear high heels. But someone forgot to tell Everley, because she often wanders into Heidi's closet, slips her feet into Heidi's heels and runs around the house. Because her boots slightly resemble snowboard bindings, Heidi and Nate have been trying to get Everley to watch the Olympics. But instead she asks her mom to collapse the ironing board to the ground so she can pretend to surf. She's become "a total daddy's girl" in the past year, Heidi says, and she rushes to the door each day to greet him, even if Barbie's on TV.
And after every game, win or lose, Everley can be found running around the court and giggling, a sight that still resonates with Nate and Heidi two years after a harrowing experience.
"The pressure is the pressure, with this job, and when you're at practice, it's all you want to focus on," Nate says. "But little Evie is such a pressure release, and seeing her run around the bleachers and sprinting up the court, Heidi and I will just look at each other and say, 'This is amazing, that she's OK.'
"She doesn't care if you win or lose, and that brings me back to reality."