Mercury star Diamond DeShields knew going into her surgery on Jan. 17, 2020 that there were risks to remove the grape-sized tumor on her spinal cord, she told ESPN’s Holly Rowe.
The biggest risk was possible paralysis because the surgeons were working near her spinal nerves, and the tumor could be intertwined with nerves.
Her surgery was predicted to take three hours, but ended up taking nine hours. In the end, DeShields’s tumor was removed, but her nerves were damaged. When the surgery was over, she had tremors and involuntary spasms and wondered if she would be able to control her body again.
In a story reported by Rowe, DeShields opened up about the impacts of the surgery, including the tremors that made her have full body seizures. At one point, she wondered if her WNBA career was over.
“I remember being in so much pain,” DeShields said. “My whole body went into contraction. I had no control over my arms.”
She stayed in the hospital for six days, followed by nine days in a rehab facility so she could relearn how to walk, for example. But, that wasn’t DeShields’s end goal.
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“I’m not trying to learn how to walk,” DeShields said. “I’m trying to learn how to run and jump and defend and do all the things that, you know, a basketball player is supposed to do.”
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, followed by the WNBA bubble. DeShields had to decide if she wanted to rejoin her team at the time, the Chicago Sky, in Florida even if she wasn’t sure she could play yet. She decided to travel to Florida in order to have support from her coaches and teammates.
She continued to participate in her rehab exercises. The guard hadn’t publicly shared the story of her surgery, so she did her best to conceal her secret during the televised games. At times, shoes weren’t comfortable for her because her feet were still numb, so she would be seen just in socks on the bench.
DeShields ended up playing in 13 games during the 2020 bubble.
Fast forward to Oct. 17, 2021, and DeShields helped the Sky win their first franchise WNBA title. As she celebrated with her team, she said he focused on how far she’s come since her back surgery. Not only was she celebrating her team’s success, but she was celebrating her own journey, too.
“I have a lot of expectations moving forward and kind of getting this off me now,” DeShields said. “I’ve been sitting with this for a long time, you know? And it’s time that I put it behind me. I’m healthy now. And I expect a lot.”
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