Apr 21, 2015
Athletic Trainer On the Mend

As the longtime athletic trainer at McKinney (Texas) North High School, Elicia Leal, MEd, LAT, ATC, knows a thing or two about difficult rehabilitations. But last summer, she gained a whole new perspective on overcoming adversity after a brain aneurysm, and a subsequent stroke during surgery, left her struggling to walk and talk. However, less than a year later, Leal is back on her feet—and back on the job.

On July 9, 2014, Leal, who is also a contributor to Training & Conditioning, lost consciousness while driving in West Virginia and woke up with a swollen eye, a broken tooth, and memory loss. Doctors at a local hospital diagnosed her with a brain aneurysm. She would need surgery to have a stent placed inside the parent artery that covered the aneurysm to enable blood flow. During the procedure, which took place at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Leal took a turn for the worse as a stroke shut down one side of her body.

Confined to a wheelchair, on August 28, Leal checked into a rehabilitation center and focused all of her energy on the challenge of regaining her motor and cognitive skills. Failure was not an option.

“I never thought I wasn’t going to be back to normal,” Leal told the McKinney Courier-Gazette. “That never crossed my mind.”

Each day, Leal met with occupational, speech, physical, and cognitive therapists. The days were long and grueling, but Physical Therapist Christie Dickson said Leal’s athletic training background helped expedite her progress.

“Part of a brain injury is insight,” Dickson said. “She knew what her deficiencies were, so she knew what to focus on.”

Dickson said that milestones that might take other patients a year or more to reach, took Leal just a few months.

“We had no problem with her motivation,” Dickson said. “She’s definitely a success story.”

On January 16, Leal completed her out-patient physical therapy and four days later she returned to McKinney High School. Armed with a new perspective on the fragility of life, Leal is thankful for her second chance.

She might move and speak a little slower than she used to, but Leal’s physical therapy work continues to advance her recovery. Her efforts are not lost on the athletes she helps through rehab. And she’s thankful to be a part of their healing process.

“Every kid I’m pushing through rehab knows I’m doing rehab, too,” Leal said. “I’m back in the job I love to do.”

We at T&C wish Elicia Leal continued success in her rehab. And we’re proud to have had her words in our pages.

Leal has written about cultural acceptance in the athletic training room and encouraging diversity within the profession.

Leap of Faith features advice for improving your cultural competence.

In A Diverse Tomorrow, Leal, a former District Six Representative to the NATA’s Ethnic Diversity Advisory Committee and a former Chair of the Southwest Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Ethnic Diversity Committee, examines tactics for attracting minorities to the athletic training profession.


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