May 12, 2016
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In the locker room before a match in which she had not been cleared to play, Mia Hoen-Beck donned her University of Virginia soccer jersey anyway.
Her teammates could not resist ribbing her. It was March 25 in Richmond, and UVA was preparing to play Duke in a spring exhibition at Sports Backers Stadium.
"Everyone was making fun of me, but I was like, `You guys don't even know what this means to me right now,' " Hoen-Beck recalled with a smile.
It meant everything to Hoen-Beck, whose first year at the University included a nightmarish month in which she grew gravely ill and lost nearly 30 pounds.
"I've been through the wringer," she said.
Hoen-Beck, a graduate of James Madison High School in Northern Virginia, has yet to play in a game for the Cavaliers. She was forced to redshirt last season after developing a severe allergic reaction to medicine she received following reconstructive surgery on her left knee. She spent 21 days at the UVA Medical Center, and her weight dropped from 145 pounds to 117.
"She looked like she was 10 years old when she left," said her mother, Andrea Beck.
Through it all, though, Hoen-Beck remained positive.
"She never got down. Ever," said Dr. Stephen Brockmeier, who oversaw her treatment. "It was really impressive. Her mom was worried. We were worried. But this is a kid who was always like, `I'm going to be fine.' "
Hoen-Beck has "an impressive internal makeup," UVA head women's soccer coach Steve Swanson said. "She never once felt sorry for herself."
Healthy again, the 19-year-old Hoen-Beck speaks matter-of-factly and dispassionately about her experience. But those who saw her lying helpless in a hospital bed were unnerved by the sight.
"It was terrible," Beck said. "There was a point where she was teetering on death."
Swanson said: "That was a tough thing, just to see her withering away. And so when you see someone like that, and they're slowly deteriorating in front of your eyes, it's scary and you just want to know what's going on and how can you help and how do they figure this out."
Hoen-Beck, a former member of the U.S. under-17 national team, has dealt with physical setbacks throughout her soccer career, ranging from fractured vertebrae to appendicitis to broken bones. Each time she's recovered fully.
"Just a cavalcade of things, and she keeps going," Beck said. "You fall down, you get back up. I was never one of these mothers that cowers when [her children] fall. No, you get back up, and you just brush yourself off and you go."
Hoen-Beck, whose twin brother, Liam, plays soccer at American University, suffered a more serious injury in May 2014 when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Reconstructive surgery followed, but by February 2015 she was playing again, Hoen-Beck said.
She enrolled at UVA last summer and began training with her new teammates, only to encounter another obstacle. In a pickup game shortly before the start of preseason practice, Hoen-Beck tore her left ACL and damaged her meniscus again.
Brockmeier, an orthopedic surgeon in the UVA Sports Medicine Clinic, reconstructed her knee on July 28, 2015, and Hoen-Beck prepared herself for another stretch of rehab, confident it would again go well.
"I saw her four or five days after the surgery, and she looked like a million bucks," Brockmeier said.
With the UVA team headed to Michigan for training camp, and Hoen-Beck trying to finish up a summer-school class, her mother drove down from Vienna to stay with her in Charlottesville. Then Hoen-Beck's health began to decline.
"I'm studying for finals, and I'm feeling a little loopy, and cold, but I'm like, `It's the meds,' " she recalled.
Her condition worsened. After developing excruciating pain in her knee and experiencing severe night sweats, Hoen-Beck went to the hospital. Doctors were not overly alarmed at first, but the next day they determined Hoen-Beck's knee was infected.
"So the treatment for that is to take her immediately -- within hours -- to the operating room, try to remove any infectious material from the joint, try to clean everything up, identify what the organism is and then start treating it with antibiotics," Brockmeier said.
"Normally people stay in the hospital after that surgery so that we can watch the knee and make sure it calms down, and then also to get them established on the correct antibiotic, and then generally they can go home on that antibiotic."
Hoen-Beck, however, did not respond as hoped.
"I just didn't get better, really," she said. "Every night I would spike these 103-, 104-degree fevers. At night I would just sweat it all out ... So I wasn't eating, had no energy, I was really tired and slept a lot."
She remained hospitalized for 14 days before her temperature dropped enough for her to be released, and that allowed her to start the fall semester at UVA.
"My mom's still down here, and she's kind of shuttling me back and forth to my classes," Hoen-Beck said.
That didn't last long. By the end of the first week of classes, Hoen-Beck felt awful, and she went home for the weekend. In Vienna, she did not leave her bed, and "my mom was like, `I'm taking you back to UVA. We're going to the hospital,' " Hoen-Beck said.
"So we go back to the hospital, they do some blood work, and I kid you not, the attending [physician] says to me, verbatim, `You are as sick as a cancer patient.' I wasn't producing any sort of blood cells. No red blood cells, no white blood cells."
Brockmeier said: "She was having an allergic reaction to the medication that she was on, and it was suppressing her bone marrow, essentially."
Such reactions are extremely uncommon, Brockmeier said, and a solution to Hoen-Beck's problems continued to elude her large medical team, which included doctors who specialize in infectious diseases.
"Quite honestly," said Brockmeier, who remains close with Hoen-Beck and her family, "the medical doctors we had on board who were treating her were puzzled, because they were like, `This has to be some sort of infection in the knee that hasn't been cleared up,' but it wasn't acting that way. And that wasn't it. In the end, it ended up being a reaction to the medicine.
"So then we moved her to a different medicine, a different antibiotic, totally different class, and she got a lot better very quickly. Except after a couple of days she started having these weird sporadic fevers.
"Every evening she would spike a fever. And then she developed a rash, kind of a drug sensitivity rash: another medication allergy to a totally different antibiotic. So then we ended up having to put her on a third antibiotic, and that antibiotic she took to just fine. She was in the hospital for another two or three days, perked up immediately, went home and kind of cruised through it."
Hoen-Beck's story had a happy ending. While it was playing out, however, her family was terrified.
"What do you when every doctor in the hospital has no idea how to help your daughter?" Beck said. "Nobody could figure it out. It was crazy, and what she doesn't remember is, there was a time she told me, `Mom, I saw the light, I saw the light,' " an experience associated with patients who have near-death experiences.
During part of Hoen-Beck's stay in the hospital, people entering her room had to wear masks and protective suits to guard against infections spreading.
"At one point I remember thinking, `This is getting bad,' because I had to go in and see her with full scrubs on," Swanson said. "I remember walking in there and her dad was doing the same thing. I felt like we were going to see somebody who had been in radiation or something."
When Hoen-Beck was finally released, she went home with a PICC line -- a peripherally inserted central catheter -- in her left arm. "It was basically a semi-permanent IV," said Hoen-Beck, who administered medication through it each day.
Hoen-Beck was able to put aside her crutches in late September, she said, and the PICC line was removed later in the fall.
"The hardest part, I think, about the fall in particular was just scheduling," Hoen-Beck said, "because I was [at UVA] twice a day doing physical therapy and also going out to practice, also going out to class, also trying to get good grades. So I had to study, and that was tough."
With help from Bill Parente, the athletic trainer who works with women's soccer at UVA, Hoen-Beck progressed rapidly in her rehab.
"It's astounding how she was able to get back on track timeline-wise," Brockmeier said, "and Bill deserves a good bit of the credit on that."
Beck praised Parente too and also singled out the support Hoen-Beck received from her teammates, coaches and medical team.
"That was really reassuring to me," Beck said, "that the people, the program, the school would have that support for her."
Hoen-Beck, who's interested in UVA's Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, roomed with teammate Jasmine Wright this year. They'll live together again in 2016-17, along with two other women's soccer players, Hana Kerner and Ayan Adu.
During a 2015 season in which Virginia advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals, Hoen-Beck did her best to remain part of the team.
"I couldn't be there physically and I couldn't be there on the field and be vocal on the field, but I wanted people to get to know me as a person," Hoen-Beck said. "I didn't want the third- and fourth-years to think back on their last couple of years and be like, `Oh, yeah, Mia, she was sick.' I wanted them to remember me for my personality, whatever their interpretation of that is."
Swanson believes Hoen-Beck, who was a heralded recruit, would have made a significant contribution for the `Hoos last year.
"It would have been interesting to see our team with Mia, because she's got a creative side that's unique," Swanson said. "She can see the field well. She's got good instincts and she's got good ideas."
Hoen-Beck's physical workload steadily increased after the calendar flipped to 2016, and in early April she was cleared to play again. She's regained the weight she lost during her illness.
"The knee itself feels great," Hoen-Beck said. "It's the fitness that we're working on."
Swanson said: "She's just not there yet. I know what she's capable of doing, and I've seen her move, but this is a different Mia right now. Which, for all that she's been through, you can understand."
Hoen-Beck, whom Swanson plans to use in an attacking role, made her UVA debut in a spring exhibition April 13 against William & Mary at Klöckner Stadium.
"I was so lost," she said, smiling, "but it's a process, I guess."
Hoen-Beck also played in Virginia's final three spring matches, against VCU, Tennessee and Virginia Tech. Her minutes increased each time out.
"There's no reason for us to rush right now," Swanson said. "August has been really the target date for her complete return, to have her be physically where she can be. It's really important just to be conservative in this piece, let her ease her way back into playing and get used to playing again."
Hoen-Beck, who was born in Bryn Mawr, Pa., outside Philadelphia, has dual citizenship in the United States and Denmark, her father's native country. She and her brother will stay with relatives in Denmark for part of the summer, and then Hoen-Beck will return to Charlottesville in early July for the third session of summer school.
"Fingers crossed to make it through this next summer, and the rest of them," said Hoen-Beck, who hopes "that for the rest of my life I don't have to go back to a hospital."
She marvels occasionally at what she endured last year.
"In the moment, you have no idea what exactly is going on," Hoen-Beck said. "But looking back, I'm like, `Did that actually happen?' "
It did, of course, and Hoen-Beck said she learned valuable lessons from her ordeal.
"The whole `life is short' thing is so cliché, but it's so true," she said, "and I feel like I'm lucky in a way that I learned that lesson so young."
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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