On Jan. 17, 2020, simply weeks after an MRI revealed she had a grape-sized tumor in her spinal wire, Diamond DeShields underwent surgical procedure at the University of Chicago. What was anticipated to be a three-hour surgical procedure to take away the lumbar spinal schwannoma developed right into a nine-hour process.
Heading into the surgical procedure, DeShields knew there have been dangers.
“One of the potential issues is paralysis, as a result of we’re working round the nerves inside the backbone,” mentioned Dr. Edwin Ramos, the neurologist who carried out DeShields’ surgical procedure.
But if the tumor was not eliminated, it additionally may trigger paralysis attributable to stress on the spinal wire.
Dr. Ramos was capable of take away the schwannoma, however the nerves had been severely impacted, leaving DeShields with tremors and involuntary spasms all through her physique. And when the 6-foot-1 WNBA guard — who was traded to the Phoenix Mercury in February after 4 seasons with the Chicago Sky — awoke after the surgical procedure, it wasn’t clear whether or not she would regain full feeling or management of her physique.
Throughout months of grueling rehabilitation, at one level even contemplating retirement, DeShields — a former WNBA All-Star and Naismith Girls High School Player of the Year — discovered to stroll and run once more, slowly returning to the world-class athlete she had been. All out of the public eye.
And on Oct. 17, 2021 — 21 months after her again surgical procedure — DeShields helped lead Chicago to the WNBA title.
As the Sky celebrated, as DeShields raised the championship trophy, she thought about all the pieces that she had overcome, about the comeback no one knew about.
“It was actually all I used to be considering about,” DeShields, 27, mentioned.
Here are 4 extra issues we discovered throughout our reporting for Outside the Lines’ phase on DeShields, which debuted May 7.
A uncommon medical situation
Ramos mentioned spinal tumors aren’t quite common, and in reality, schwannomas account for “about 5% of the tumors we see in the backbone.” Ramos mentioned DeShields can have annual MRIs to ensure the tumor does not recur.
DeShields’ benign tumor, which Ramos mentioned was 2-2½ centimeters in diameter, was compressing her spinal wire.
“Think of it like a grape pushing on this nerve,” he mentioned. “We should peel that grape-sized mass from that nerve, from that spinal wire and from the surrounding nerve roots, the nerve branches, with out inflicting injury or an excessive amount of irritation to them.”
During the surgical procedure, Ramos recognized that a few of the nerves intertwined with the tumor had been the nerves going to DeShields’ toes. So the medical workers knew she would have hypersensitivity and ache in her toes.
But not lengthy after waking up from the surgical procedure, DeShields’ finger involuntarily began tapping on her thigh.
A protracted, gradual rehabilitation
Ann Crosby, the Chicago Sky’s director of basketball operations and the head energy and conditioning coach, and Meghan Lockerby, the Sky’s head athletic coach from 2019 to 2020, helped take care of DeShields after her surgical procedure, spending hours by her aspect in the hospital and later at the rehab facility. They had been there when the spasms began.
“Diamond would get tremors. It would get so unhealthy the place her entire physique was seizing, to the level the place she’s bought tears rolling down her eyes, however she will’t converse,” Crosby mentioned. “And she’s clawing at her face as a result of she will’t management her fingers. We’re simply making an attempt to ensure she does not damage herself.
“And we could not predict once they had been coming. You cannot see it. All of a sudden it was simply there.”
Said DeShields: “I bear in mind being in a lot ache. My entire physique went into contraction. I had no management over my arms.”
DeShields additionally skilled intense, burning ache in her toes. Even the gentle contact of a bedsheet was an excessive amount of to take.
Crosby knew how necessary it was to reassure DeShields that she was making progress and assist hold her spirits up.
“The minute you stroll in the room, [you try to have a] smile in your face,” Crosby mentioned. “I’d be tremendous robust in entrance of her, however I’d get in the automobile and nearly vomit, simply figuring out how a lot ache she was in.”
Amidst the ache and tremors, DeShields’ remedy started. Early on, it concerned studying to get her toe to elevate off the floor, or lifting her foot to take a step.
“It actually was studying easy methods to stroll once more, studying easy methods to stability once more, studying easy methods to do issues that you just take as a right each single day,” Crosby mentioned.
After six days in the hospital, DeShields was moved to an inpatient rehab facility — and she stored pushing the envelope, eager to do extra workouts in between classes of bodily remedy. DeShields was getting off the bed unsupervised so usually that the medical workers put an alarm on her mattress to forestall her from sneaking off the bed to train.
“I’m not making an attempt to discover ways to stroll,” mentioned DeShields, who spent one other 9 days in the rehab facility. “I’m making an attempt to discover ways to run and leap and defend and do all the issues that, you recognize, a basketball participant is meant to do.”
And that is what involved Crosby.
“I knew she’d stroll,” Crosby mentioned. “I had full belief that she would get that motor growth again, however to be explosive, to be the Diamond DeShields that she was, I did not know. It was a bet.”
A call to affix the WNBA bubble — whilst the tremors continued
DeShields’ rehab continued with Lockerby and Crosby. But the course of was severely restricted throughout the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, once they may no longer meet in particular person. Determined, DeShields labored out and skilled outdoor in parks close to her dwelling, collaborating via video along with her trainers.
By April 2020, nevertheless, DeShields mentioned she nonetheless could not run in a straight line or leap. Her mobility and endurance had been gradual to return, and as quickly as her muscle mass fatigued, the tremors would begin once more.
But DeShields remained adamant about figuring out each day, and over time, her bodily talents improved. So a lot in order that when it turned clear the WNBA would play the 2020 season in a bubble in Bradenton, Florida, DeShields felt the pull of being again on the court docket and reunited along with her teammates. She wasn’t certain her physique was prepared. And she wasn’t certain she was able to share all the pieces she’d been via with the remainder of the coaches and gamers in the bubble.
DeShields mentioned she had three phone conversations with Chicago coach James Wade, initially telling him she wasn’t coming. But the extra she talked about it, the extra she knew she wanted to be there.
“I want my teammates greater than they in all probability want me proper now,” DeShields determined.
“Not solely was I coping with what I used to be coping with bodily,” she mentioned, “there was the Black Lives Matter motion, the COVID pandemic, all this loneliness, this isolation. And I simply wanted to be round them. I wanted the help and the comradery.”
Once inside the bubble, Lockerby and Crosby helped give you contingency plans, as a result of DeShields was nonetheless having tremors and making an attempt to hide her situation, particularly as video games had been televised. At this level, she mentioned her proper foot additionally remained numb, and sporting sneakers was nonetheless uncomfortable — it is why she was seen on the sideline at instances in her socks. And the tremors may come at any time.
“I all the time needed to verify my feelings,” DeShields mentioned. “‘Cause every time I bought emotional, I’d begin to have tremors. And these had been good feelings or unhealthy feelings, if I used to be comfortable or if I used to be crying. So I used to be all the time simply making an attempt to be even-keel, particularly once I was round folks.”
DeShields and Crosby would meet at 5:30 a.m. to squeeze in extra exercises, primarily specializing in serving to DeShields get her explosiveness again. And at evening, they’d meet once more for smooth tissue work and stretching.
Due to heightened COVID-19 protocols, gamers weren’t allowed to go away the court docket space and return to a sport. So the Sky’s trainers arrange a desk close by, simply off the court docket and behind a curtain, the place DeShields may retreat for some privateness. If she felt a tremor approaching whereas she was on the court docket, Diamond would give Crosby a sign.
“She’d give me the little, you recognize, deer in the headlights [look],” Crosby mentioned. “I had to assist her off [the court] twice, the place I met her at half court docket, pretending to take her glasses and wipe them or no matter, nevertheless it was extra to calm her down just a little bit.”
DeShields performed quarter-hour in Chicago’s season-opening victory on July 26, 2020. Though she was far beneath one hundred pc, DeShields caught it out, showing in 13 video games earlier than leaving the bubble in late August after taking a knee to the thigh throughout a sport.
DeShields’ function in Chicago’s championship run
DeShields averaged 5.5 factors and 15.7 minutes per sport over 10 playoff video games final season as Chicago received its first WNBA title.
Veteran Sky guard Allie Quigley insists Chicago would not have received the 2021 championship with out DeShields, who averaged 11.3 PPG and 26.9 MPG and began 22 of 32 video games.
After the decisive Game 4, a 80-74 victory in Chicago, as the Sky celebrated on court docket, Quigley and DeShields embraced.
“I advised her, ‘This [winning a WNBA title] began with you three or 4 years in the past.’ She modified the tradition. She modified our workforce athletically,” Quigley mentioned. “I feel the piece of the championship that Diamond introduced was simply overcoming adversity.”
DeShields was the No. 3 choose in the 2018 WNBA draft after she elected to not use her last season of NCAA eligibility. That season, she began 33 of the Sky’s 34 video games, averaging 14.4 PPG and 4.9 RPG, and was named to the WNBA All-Rookie workforce. She made a direct impression on the Sky.
“When you noticed what she may do on the basketball court docket, it was simply unbelievable, the manner she may go 94 toes and simply how briskly she was,” Quigley mentioned. “It was loopy. You may throw [the ball] in all probability 20 toes forward of her and simply someway, she would get it. It was simply such a luxurious to have round the workforce.”
In 2019, DeShields was voted an All-Star for the first time, profitable the WNBA All-Star Skills Challenge. “I actually imagine I used to be the most athletic participant in the world,” DeShields mentioned not too long ago, wanting again at the 2019 season. “Definitely a top-five participant in the league. … I do not assume there was actually no person touching me at my place that 12 months.”
The 2022 WNBA season opened Friday, and Phoenix fell 106-88 at dwelling. DeShields, who was touring again to the United States from taking part in abroad, missed the sport however is predicted to play Wednesday at Seattle.
When the Mercury first reached out in the offseason, they had been unaware of the tumor, the restoration, all the pieces DeShields had been via. DeShields mentioned she and her agent shared all of it. Phoenix nonetheless needed her.
“I’ve plenty of expectations shifting ahead and form of getting this off me now,” DeShields mentioned. “I’ve been sitting with this for a very long time, you recognize? And it is time that I put it behind me. I’m wholesome now. And I count on quite a bit.”