North Central College - Naperville, IL

The comeback kids: Cardinal student athletes battle the odds

Maggie Youel

Maggie Youel ’14 and Dylan Crawshaw ’14 have a story similar to many North Central couples. They met two years ago during First-Year Experience and studied chemistry  and calculus together. But their story took a drastic turn on April 16, 2012, when Dylan noticed that Maggie was acting strangely. He called 911. Maggie was rushed to Edward Hospital. As Maggie now says six months later, “Then the stroke happened.”

She went from playing in the No. 2 position on the Cardinal women’s tennis team to intensive care. Her medical prognosis was poor and the campus gathered in Koten Chapel for prayer. “The tennis team was devastated,” recalls head coach Don Moravec ’69. “We ended up canceling two of our last three matches.”

Within days, brother Ben ’09 started a CaringBridge journal that documented her progress. “All along we’ve been wondering why this happened to Maggie,” he wrote on April 19. “Why does an active, healthy 20-year-old suffer a carotid dissection and throw a clot into her brain?”

The Youel family has never received an answer to their question, but many times over they’ve received answers to their prayers. On April 25, “Maggie opened her eyes,” wrote Ben, currently a student at University of Illinois-Chicago College of Dentistry. On May 8: “Maggie is using the words ‘hello’ and ‘no’ rather liberally. All the nurses, doctors and family are impressed that she's using language at all.”

Along the way there were medical complications but her determination buoyed the family’s spirits. In May, Maggie was transferred to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). “When she was first evaluated there, she scored 3 points out of 56,” says Therese Youel, Maggie’s mother. “She could barely sit up by herself.” Therapy began with Maggie in a harness attached to the ceiling, while therapists moved her legs in a walking motion.

During two grueling months at RIC (a family member was there with her every night), Maggie worked on her speech and walking. She passed a swallow test and ice cream was her first real food. In July, she went home to Crystal Lake with Therese, her father Curt and devoted younger sisters Evelyn, 17, and Nelle, 19. (Brother Gabe ’11 is living in Omaha, NE.)

This fall, her daily routine has involved riding a bus for all-day therapy sessions at RIC’s Wheeling location. She’s relearning math and reading skills and how to write with her left hand, since the stroke paralyzed her right side. Occupational therapists help her with independent living skills. In October, Ben posted, “Maggie can shower and dress herself. She does this all with one hand. She can make a pretty decent PB&J sandwich. Maggie is now strong enough to walk down to the basement and grab something for herself out of the refrigerator.”

The family continues to witness steady progress, says Therese. “From being able to do nothing for herself to trying to be independent—it’s huge.”  Dylan takes Maggie to his parents’ home in Geneva for weekend visits and now attends Northern Illinois University. “I didn’t want to come back (to North Central) if Maggie wasn’t coming back,” Dylan says. He also changed his major to speech pathology, inspired by Maggie’s therapists.

Curt and Therese hope that more miracles are ahead. “We owe so much to family, friends, people from North Central and to Dylan,” she says. “Maggie wants to get better. For her to be doing as well as she is so far, there’s got to be a reason. And we believe it’s because so many people have cared.”

Joe Orozco

Cardinal football practice can be hot or cold, rainy, physically exhausting and mentally challenging. But don’t complain to Joe Orozco ’12, a defensive lineman and exercise science major. After recovering from a serious foot injury, Orozco is grateful to attend every practice and play in every game. “I wake up and I can’t wait to get down to the stadium,” he says.

During the Carthage game in 2009, Orozco pushed off his right foot and heard a snap. He kept playing and didn’t learn until later that he’d broken a bone. His sophomore year of football was finished.

What followed was a set of medical complications so serious that he nearly lost his foot and, during a bad drug reaction, his life. A surgery to repair the bone led to an infection that required three additional surgeries within three weeks—in a desperate attempt to prevent an amputation. “When you’re 19, that’s not what you want to hear,” he said about those discussions. “I was in a dark place.”

Orozco returned to North Central in January 2010, bringing along his own IV pole for the antibiotics he administered to himself three times a day. Despite the challenges, he achieved a 3.79 grade-point average that term. (He wants to apply to a graduate physical therapy program in the future.)

By March, his foot was healed but needed so much rehabilitation that football seemed like a distant dream. But two Cardinal football players restored his hope. “I walked into Merner Field House and saw Matt Wenger ’10 doing very strenuous exercises and he wasn’t 100 percent yet from his injury. That made me start to work out harder. Later, I saw Derek Sulo ’10 working out and he said to me ‘I’m really proud of you, I hope you make it.’ I still remember his exact words and I knew then that I’d never quit.”

The motivation to rehab his foot, which required a year of solitary daily workouts, came from his deep connection to the team. “People don’t understand what it’s like to be part of our football team. I have 110 brothers. The coaches are like parents and they were willing to accept me back. It made me remember why I came here in the first place.”

After missing the 2010 season—his junior year—Orozco (No. 54) returned to practice in spring 2011. He saw limited playing time during 2011 and decided to use his last year of eligibility for 2012.

“Joe has been an inspiration and a role model for the younger kids,” says Rick Ponx, assistant head football coach and defensive coordinator. “He epitomizes the philosophy that hard work and a great attitude will lead you to accomplishing your goals.”

Orozco has caused some big turnovers in 2012 that provide the ultimate rewards for his long journey back. “After I forced a fumble against (the University of) Redlands, it was the most indescribable feeling,” he says. “It was worth all the work to get back to this team.”