Roanoke youth on comeback trail after scary medical ordeal

Alayna Stroup (right) sits with her mother, Sarah, in their Roanoke home. Earlier this year, Alayna spent almost two months at Riley Hospital for Children, in Indianapolis. The cause of her ailment was a medical mystery. While Alayna has since returned home, she is in the midst of a lengthy recovery process.
Alayna Stroup (right) sits with her mother, Sarah, in their Roanoke home. Earlier this year, Alayna spent almost two months at Riley Hospital for Children, in Indianapolis. The cause of her ailment was a medical mystery. While Alayna has since returned home, she is in the midst of a lengthy recovery process. Photo by Steve Clark.

As the season drew to a close for the Huntington North High School girls’ swim team this past February, Alayna Stroup had reason to smile. The sophomore had qualified for the second day of competition at the formidable Warsaw Sectional. Competing in the 100-yard backstroke for the Lady Vikings, she achieved a clocking of 1:13.51.

It was her fastest time ever.

But then Stroup’s life came to a screeching halt. By the end of February, she was in a hospital, fighting for her life. How could a vibrant 16-year-old’s health have deteriorated so quickly? It was a medical mystery that baffled physicians for months.

In the prelude to her health crisis, Stroup hadn’t been feeling well, troubled by both chest pain and shortness of breath. However, as an athlete, she attributed both of those symptoms to sports asthma. Also, the flu had been going around, so she suspected that might be causing some of her discomfort, too.

Still, Stroup made two trips to her doctor. And neither appointment turned up anything alarming.

Everything changed, though, the morning of Feb. 26. Stroup’s mother, Sarah, had been periodically checking her temperature. And when she entered her daughter’s room with a thermometer around 2 a.m., she was confronted with a frightening scene.

“I found her on her floor,” says Sarah. “She was just dripping with sweat.”

Alayna was running a temperature of 106 degrees.

Her mother sprang into action.

“I put her on my back,” says Sarah. “I don’t know how I did it. I put her on my back and I carried her out to the car, drove her to the hospital, put her on my back again – I didn’t even go in and get a wheelchair. Put her on my back again and walked her in.”

The Stroups were at Parkview Huntington Hospital. They only stayed there for about a day, however, before transferring to Parkview Regional Medical Center, in Fort Wayne. Once there, Alayna had a needle inserted into her to release fluid that was building up inside her.

“They pulled out two liters of fluid out of her heart,” says Sarah.

Afterwards, tests were run on the fluid.

And the results were alarming.

“The doctor said, ‘We looked at her test results from the fluids,’” says Sarah. “‘And her kidneys are shutting down. Her liver is shutting down. Her pancreas is shutting down.

“‘We have to airlift her to Riley Hospital.’”

Alayna was rushed aboard Parkview’s Samaritan helicopter. While the hospital doesn’t typically allow family members on the helicopter, an emotional Sarah begged them to make an exception.

They did.

“Not only did they let her ride, but they let me ride,” says Sarah.

“They never do that,” adds Alayna.

After an hour in the air, the helicopter landed at Riley Hospital for Children, in Indianapolis.

“Then it was procedure after procedure,” says Sarah.

Within Alayna’s first 10 days at Riley, she underwent three procedures to alleviate fluid buildup. At one point, she had seven tubes running out of her body to expel the fluid.

Alayna underwent multiple operations. Of those procedures, the first one was the most arduous.

“When I had my first surgery, I woke up,” says Alayna. “It was the most intense thing I ever felt.”

“It was absolutely awful,” comments Sarah. “I have never experienced anything that awful. Her, screaming in pain.”

Alayna’s stay at Riley stretched from days into weeks. During that time, more and more physicians got involved with her case, trying to get to the bottom of what was making her ill.

At the start of every day, a team of doctors would congregate outside of Alayna’s room, says Sarah. They reviewed her status and discussed what their goals were for her by day’s end. At one point, that team swelled to 22 physicians, says Sarah.

The doctors were able to determine that Alayna was fighting off an infection of streptococcal bacteria. What they struggled to determine, though, is why it was taking such a toll on her body.

Alayna’s stay at Riley spanned March and extended into April. While she was eventually deemed healthy enough to be released from the hospital on April 13, doctors didn’t fully solve her medical mystery until May.

Ultimately, doctors deduced that Alayna had been afflicted with histoplasmosis before the streptococcal bacteria entered her body. Histoplasmosis is a fungal infection. The spores from that fungus are common in Indiana’s soil and air. In Alayna’s case, her immune system happened to be in a weakened state when she developed histoplasmosis. The spores were able to latch onto her lymph nodes and, eventually, they calcified, which created a hole in her lungs. Then, when Alayna contracted the streptococcal bacteria, it passed through that hole and infected her entire body.

“And that’s why her body was shutting down, is because of the streptococcus,” explains Sarah.

While Alayna, now 17, has been back home, in Roanoke, for several months now, she’s in the midst of a recovery process that doctors say could last a year. The surgeries she underwent – two were open-chest – took a toll on her body. As a result, surgical pain is a frequent source of discomfort for her. Additionally, she is dealing with complications from the histoplasmosis.

“Pain constantly,” remarks Alayna. “It’s hard to do stuff.”

Still, Alayna does her best to manage that pain and forge on with her life. She’s resumed her studies at Huntington North, attending class in the afternoons. While she’s not able to make it to school every day, due to pain, fatigue and a steady stream of doctor’s appointments, Huntington North has been very understanding, says Sarah.

“The school is doing an amazing job helping her and doing what they can,” she shares. “They want her to graduate. She wants to graduate.”

While Alayna has been back in school, she hasn’t been back in the pool yet for the swim team. She’s remained connected to the team, though, attending practice whenever she can. She is a cheerleader for her teammates.

“Coach Myc has been amazing,” says Sarah of the team’s head coach, Mycal Rodenbeck. “He tells her, ‘You do what you can. The team will be here. You do what you can to be supportive and encouraging.’

“And that’s what she does.”

The prospect of swimming for the team next season has been one of Alayna’s biggest inspirations as she works to recover.

“We’re hoping that next year she’s going to be in that pool,” says Sarah. “That’s the goal, is to get strong and is to heal so that she can be in the pool.”

In addition to her mother, Alayna credits her grandparents, Rick and Diana Reed, with giving her the strength she’s needed to carry on this year.
“I wouldn’t have gotten through it if it wasn’t for my mom, my grandma and grandpa,” she says.

Alayna is also thankful for the support she’s received from her uncle, Philip Reed, her best friend, Brenna Mason, and her two dogs, Gizmo and Louey.

Ultimately, while this has been the most challenging year of Alayna’s life, her mother is confident that, someday, some good will come from it.

“God has a plan for everybody,” says Sarah. “She will look back at this and know why she went through this.

“Everything happens for a reason.”