Written and Published by Bucks County Herald
Sarah Wilson rested on the sectional, calmly telling her story as her IVIg dripped in her right arm. Her nurse attentively sat close by.
Twenty-four hours before, Wilson started for the Division II Nyack Warriors in their CACC tilt at Jefferson. Twelve days earlier, starter Wilson scored six and dished out three assists in Nyack’s 70-58 win over Felician.
The IV is “once a month, two days in a row,” described Wilson, a sophomore guard. “Honestly, right now, I’m just happy to be playing and out there with my team even if we’re not winning every game. I feel like our coach appreciates all of the hard work we did to get back to this point.”
Wilson is winning her fight with CIDP – chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy – a rare neurological condition that left her barely able to walk a year ago.
Charles Dickens implored readers that in order to appreciate the power of “A Christmas Carol,” they had to understand that Jacob Marley was dead.
The Herald implores readers that in order to appreciate the power of Wilson’s story, they have to understand how high she rose and fell.
Sophomore Wilson was the heroine in New Hope-Solebury’s upset of St. Basil that clinched the 2016 District One crown. The lightning-quick Wilson won the 2018 Bicentennial Basketball Player of the Year. Wilson was an even better field hockey player, tallying over 100 career goals and generating plenty of Division I interest.
Andy Krasna, Wilson’s basketball coach at New Hope, recalls her coming to an open gym during field hockey season with soaking wet hair. “I thought she went home and showered because those workouts are really hard,” Krasna recalled. “She said ‘Oh no, Coach, I just ran 12 miles and came straight from practice!’ That showed me a lot. Even as a sophomore, Sarah just made the right play.”
“In my senior year, I decided on basketball because of the season we had and how much fun we had,” Wilson explained. “I chose Nyack because I wanted to be close to home and it was a Christian school. I wanted that background where I could grow in my faith.”
Wilson started her first five games at Nyack, despite her legs feeling “weird and heavy” at practice. Wilson, who had also fought off whooping cough, ignored her legs until she couldn’t.
In Nyack’s third game at Franklin Pierce, “my leg just kept giving out. I’d be running, jump, stop and fall,” Wilson described. “I’d go for a layup and wouldn’t be able to land. If someone bumped me, I’d fall. The worst part was when I was going to go into the game. I stood up and fell right over. I finished the game but sat out the next one.”
Wilson managed to start two more games but during Thanksgiving break, her parents immediately realized that something wasn’t right.
“They didn’t know what it was. We thought it was MS (multiple sclerosis) at first or Guillain-Barré,” Wilson said. An EMG came back normal.
The Wilsons, alarmed by Sarah’s foot drop, next saw an infectious disease doctor, who referred them back to a neurologist. “We had to wait a month between each appointment,” Wilson remembers. “They’d run a test, and then we’d have to wait another month. It was taking so long.”
CIDP “is caused by inflammation of nerves and nerve roots,” says WebMD. “The swelling can destroy the protective covering around nerves, known as myelin. That can hurt nerve fibers and slow the nerves’ ability to send signals.” It results in pain and fatigue.
The disease is rare, and more common in older males. Diagnosing it in a young, elite female athlete took work. By this point, Wilson was forced to use forearm crutches in order to walk.
Dr. David Younger, a respected New York based neurologist, finally diagnosed CIDP. But at first, Younger didn’t diagnose Wilson’s work ethic. “When I told the doctor I wanted to go back to playing basketball, he seemed very doubtful,” Wilson recalled.
New Hope coaches can tell “Sarah working hard” stories for days. “I went to Helen Hayes Rehab Hospital twice a week. I did stuff in the gym on my own,” Wilson relayed. “I did pool and aqua therapy. I did physical and occupational therapy.”
“We went to Princeton’s camp a year ago and Sarah came to help out and be supportive,” Krasna explained. “I didn’t realize we had to walk all over campus and never once did she ever complain or feel like a victim. She always stayed positive and that was amazing to me.”
Faith and family are fully lived out in the Wilson household. “I don’t know how people deal without faith, to be honest,” Wilson admits. “I felt like God gave me a peace. I was really confident that I was coming back and I feel like God was telling me, during everything, that I was going to be fine in the end. Even if it didn’t involve basketball, I was going to be okay. I had so much support with everybody around me, with my family and my team. Even if other people were sort of panicking, I wasn’t panicking.”
The Wilson family has a video of Sarah at therapy, wobbling like a newborn colt.
The Wilsons also have a video of Sarah blowing by a defender for two of her 13 points in Nyack’s opening night 82-50 rout of Cheyney this past Nov. 11.
“We were more concerned with would she be able to bounce back and not just play basketball. But I went to the first game this year. We were so happy to see her play, she played so well and they won the game. It was a perfect ending,” Krasna concluded.
Wilson still needs ankle braces – she missed two games this year when the braces broke – but she started all the rest. “Spiritually, she is one of our leaders. She earned our Warrior Award last year that goes to the player on each team that exemplifies Christ on and off the court,” shared Nyack head coach Rashidi Aikens last December. “She’s a great person and a great basketball player.”
Wilson led the Warriors in assists and steals. More impressively, she led the CACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. “You can tell she is a total difference maker,” Aikens added.
“Next year, I’m hoping not to have to wear the braces, but it’s going to involve a lot of rehab this summer. I can’t do the things I could do before,” Wilson noted, “but I’ll just do things differently.”
Krasna describes Sarah as “playing chess when everyone else is playing checkers. Her cerebral game was so far ahead of most high schoolers,” the coach said. “Things like seeing the pass that is going to happen before she receives the ball.”
Wilson hopes to get stronger and quicker in the offseason. It’s a heartwarming thought that Wilson can focus on regular basketball this coming spring when last spring, she was concerned with just walking normally.
Nyack finished 8-19 but it was their highest win total in six years. “I didn’t really think about (building a program) but after I got here, I got that mindset of ‘We can really change the culture and not just basketball wise but faith wise,’’ Wilson admitted. “We can get in the right mindset every single day.”
If Nyack ever needs a reminder on possibilities, they can look at their point guard’s forearm crutches … collecting dust from disuse because of what Wilson overcame.
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