West Grand’s Allie Daly defies odds in return to volleyball court

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"photo courtesy of Emily Pedersen | West Grand junior, Allie Daly (center holding the plaque) returned to playing volleyball after her battle with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Daly is a starter for her team that came out victorious in Labor Day weekend's tournament hosted at West Grand."

Mustangs junior opens up about battle with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

by Dan Whitaker CHSAANow.com

Doctors told her there was a slim chance she’d ever be able to play sports again.

Guess where West Grand junior girls volleyball and basketball player Allie Daly is today? Before getting to that answer, let’s first
go back to April 13, 2021.

West Grand girls volleyball versus Middle Park. A huge rivalry game. Daly and her Mustang teammates are fired up and ready to go. Daly, however, has been dealing with an ongoing health issue that she first started to notice during basketball season back in January.
She is often fatigued, getting lightheaded and feeling like she may pass out. At first Daly chalks it up to her overall conditioning after a long winter usually spent in some sort of quarantine. Then volleyball season starts, and Daly is in improved shape. But her symptoms persist to the point that she can’t even talk during matches and she is so tired that she must be subbed out.

The symptoms remained firmly in place leading into the Middle Park match. After the first set, Daly feels okay. By set two, she is feeling a little more tired. Then comes set three. Daly feels really sick, has some bad chest pain and a headache, and is having trouble keeping her balance.

After a long rally in the third set, in which Daly had a hard dive to the floor for a ball, she went back to serve.

“I remember going back to serve, and I don’t remember much after that,” Daly said.

“I blacked out a little bit.”

What Daly remembers after that mostly stems from watching the tape of the match after the fact. She wasn’t responding to her teammates around her. She tried to talk to the coaches, but nothing was coming out. As she was going back to serve, the up ref and her teammates noticed something was not right. She was helped to the ground by teammates Alex Schake and Morgan Nelson.

“They thought it might have had something to do with my blood sugar,” Daly recalled. “So Morgan tilted my head back and dumped orange juice down my throat! I almost drowned on OJ,” she said, laughing.

From there her mother, Angie, and sister, Emma, assisted her in getting off the court, where she continued to be evaluated by athletic trainers and EMTs. They noticed that her heart rate was well above average, even for just having come out of a game, so she was taken into the Middle Park ER.

At first, personnel at the hospital believe it’s probably just a hydration issue, and she’s hooked up to an IV. In what could be viewed as a lifesaving moment, though, the doctor on call that night took an electrocardiogram (EKG) and noticed something was off. So, Daly’s tense night continued.

She was sent to Aurora Children’s Hospital, which, coming in the mountains, is a bit of a hike. According to Daly, they made it
in a “record time” of an hour and 20 minutes. Once settled in there, doctors continued to poke and prod Daly, taking more EKGs, doing blood work, and taking an Echocardiogram. By the time they are done, it was 3 a.m.

The next day, the results came in. That day, they were very nice, bringing in the therapy dog and all that,” Daly said.

The doctor told her she had a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, shortened to HCM. It is a rare condition in which the heart muscle becomes abnormally thick, making it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body.

HCM is only found in an estimated 1 in every 200,000 children, and most of the time not until that child has tragically passed away after overexertion.

So, it was not lost on Daly just how incredibly lucky she was.

Even with that in mind, when Daly was presented with her options to help treat her condition, she chose the one that gave her the
best chance to play sports again. An Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD), which is a surgically implanted device that will shock the heart back into rhythm.

Despite choosing that option, doctors told her it still was unlikely she’d ever step foot on the hardwood again.

“After hearing that, I was very upset because I’ve been playing basketball since first grade and volleyball since fifth,” Daly said. “Sports has been my life, so I told the doctor ‘Well, that’s not going to work for me.’”

The doctors said she had around two and a half months before her next checkup to see if everything was progressing and healing correctly. After a week-long stay in the hospital post-surgery, Daly started to return to her normal schedule. She was doing schoolwork, watching her volleyball team as they continued to push for playoffs, and even went to prom.

But then, she got an infection. With her condition the way it was, that could very well have led to heart complications, and even a heart transplant. So, it was back to familiar territory: a hospital bed.

Daly was put on antibiotics and monitored for three more days before she was in the clear. When she was given the okay to be discharged again, Daly went right back to one of her happy places, supporting her teammates as they started regional tournament play
“I wanted to show the team I’d cheer them on and support them through anything,” Daly said.

When it came time for that first checkup in June, she was hit with tough news. The doctor was not comfortable clearing her for activity yet. However, she was told to try again in July and in the meantime, drink double the amount of water because that was going to make her heart beat easier.

Daly proceeded to “drink more water than I ever thought I would” and, with the support and encouragement of her coaches, teammates, community, and family, continued to nurse herself back to full health.

Then came that July checkup.

“I went back for that July checkup, and I was a little worried,” Daly explained. “But I looked at her and told her ‘I want to play. I will do anything I can just to play’ and this time she said okay. She told me I had to continue to hydrate, eat well, and be honest with my coaches.”

“The whole being honest about being hurt was a little new for me, because I always just want to push through the pain,” Daly continued. “But I said ‘Okay. If you let me play, I’ll do this.’”

That leads to Aug. 20, 2021, the West Grand volleyball season-opener against Summit. 130 days after that fateful day in April.

“I was really nervous, but also really excited,” Daly said. “Then five minutes before game time I almost stated crying because I was so nervous. A great thing my teammates did was gather around me and held my hand and told me I was going to do well. Then I looked up and saw my parents in the stands and right then I knew I could do it.

“And as soon as we scored that first point, I knew it. I knew I was back.”