David Yellen

A doctor told Katie Hnida she had about a 3% chance to survive what happened to her. 

By Charlotte Carroll
December 19, 2018

Katie Hnida doesn’t remember much about the first few days of her stay in a hospital for multi-organ failure in September. But when she started coming around in the ICU, she saw the TV was on.

Hnida, who struggled to recognize family members and name what city she was in, realized the screen was showing college football.

So when doctors and nurses questioned her this time around, Hnida knew it had to be a Saturday. And soon she wanted to know what teams had played and won. Eventually she even got to watch her alma mater New Mexico play via a computer as well.

The 37-year-old attended the University of Colorado from 1999 to 2000, then transferred to the University of New Mexico where she played three seasons as a placekicker. On Aug. 30, 2003, Hnida kicked two extra points against Texas State to become the first woman in NCAA history to score in a Division I game.

In the years since, she’s been working as an advocate, educator and voice for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. In a 2004 interview with Sports Illustrated, Hnida detailed an allegation that she had been raped by one of her Colorado teammates after enduring verbal abuse and molestation by other teammates throughout the season. (She never pressed charges or sued the school.)

As she recovers at her family’s home in Colorado, Hnida has been piecing together what happened. She was prescribed a common antibiotic while home with her family, then a few days later began to feel out of it. She wasn’t eating or drinking. So her father, a physician, and her sister, a nurse, decided it’d be best to get her checked out at the hospital.

Hnida was given fluids at first, but she was yanked off them as soon as her blood work came back and the situation became dire. Her kidneys and liver were not functioning properly, while her bone marrow also had problems. After a delay caused by complications from the bone marrow issue, Hnida was given dialysis. There was talk of needing a blood transfusion.

Hnida vaguely remembers thinking at that point things were going to be O.K., but she also overheared part of a conversation about potentially moving her to another hospital and needing a liver transplant.

The rest is a blur until she started coming around in the ICU. Eventually doctors realized that she had had an extremely rare reaction to the antibiotic.

Since those few weeks in the hospital, Hnida has been recovering. She had a brief stint back in the hospital to fight off an infection, but she is home and sleeping a lot now. She has also been able to step back and reassess her life a little.

"There was about 36 hours I was in pretty critical condition, and we weren’t sure which way it was going to go," she said. "That is really sobering and kind of made me think about how I want my life to be going forward. What are the most important things?"

Between reading more and discovering Words with Friends, Hnida is trying to improve the cognitive issues that set in as a result of swelling in her brain. She’s slowly becoming active again but struggling to not overdo it.

"I think as an athlete, I’m used to pushing it as close to that line as you can get it," she said. "You never want to cross the line into what would be unhealthy training but you definitely push yourself to … as far it can go."

Hnida has been told by a doctor that she had about a 3% chance of surviving what happened to her. She credits being a former athlete to helping her survive: Not only the physical training that has strengthened her body over the years, but also the mindset she developed as an athlete.

"That mentality, the athlete mentality, that you are not giving up, that you are going to push it, that you are going to make it, that you are going to go that extra yard probably played a pretty big role in my body fighting back," Hnida said. "And once she did start to fight back, my turnaround was really pretty good. I’m definitely going to have a long recovery because of how serious this was, but I’m just so incredibly lucky."

Hnida has dealt with less serious and chronic health issues before, but never anything this serious. She’s still trying to process that this has been "life threatening," and she is thinking back to a moment in her hospital bed when her dad kept on calling it a second chance.

Hnida was out of it, wondering what he was talking about. But she’s closer to understanding now.

"This could have gone the other way quicker than or more easily than I like to admit," she said. "I don’t want to jump into a bunch of clichés, but you do get that life is precious, life is fleeting and you want to make the absolute best of it while you’re here."

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