Olivia Maccoux left an adapted soccer game last fall to vomit even though she was not ill.
Maccoux, a junior at Park Center, cried on the way home from an adapted softball game last week, tears shed not for an awful performance but because of acute pain.
Since being born 11 weeks premature, Maccoux has battled a condition called Hydrocephalus, in which excess fluid in the brain can cause potentially fatal pressure levels.
She has endured more than 100 surgeries seeking to correct the condition or ease the complications. The procedures ranged from placing titanium mesh and artificial bone behind her forehead 14 years ago to make more room for her brain to the recent removal of a port from her chest just in time for prom.
The norms of teenage life are not attainable for Maccoux, 17, without her willingness to accept extraordinary circumstances. That is why she deals with the pain before, during and after games with the Park Center/Osseo/Maple Grove physically impaired adapted sports teams and makes the adjustments necessary to get her through a school day.
“If I didn’t have schools and sports, I don’t know what else I’d be doing,” Maccoux said.
The relentless Maccoux stands out, coach Al Chuba said, on a team full of kids displaying the courage to play sports despite their challenges.
“I call her ‘Iron Woman,’ ” Chuba said. “Her resiliency is amazing.”
A three-month stay at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital forced Maccoux to miss last softball season. Otherwise, she is hard to keep out of the lineup. She’s even played with stitches in her head.
“She’s the first one to text me after a game apologizing if she didn’t play so hot,” Chuba said. “All our kids play through adversity but I tell her, ‘You’re doing what most kids won’t do.’ ”
Maccoux said she just does what comes naturally. Her parents, Dan and Cathy, encouraged Olivia and older sisters Amanda and Traci to be active. Even from a young age, Olivia Maccoux embraced her situation by wearing a helmet during dance recitals.
Maccoux attended the Hydrocephalus Association national conference last July in Washington D.C. Cathy Maccoux said her daughter was “one of the only high school students there enrolled at a public school and the only athlete whatsoever.”
Maccoux’s first participation in varsity sports came in seventh grade with Park Center’s swimming and diving team. She also played adapted floor hockey and softball and her teammates recruited her for soccer.
Soccer became her favorite sport — Maccoux made the 2010 all-tournament team for the third-place Pirates — though the running can leave her nauseous. She gets a mild scolding from her neurosurgeon for a willingness to play the ball off her titanium-enhanced forehead.
Playing sports, Maccoux admits, does aggravate her symptoms. The real pain, however, comes from within. Shunts, or valves, inside her brain and outside her skull are designed to keep correct pressures within the brain but it is an inexact science. This summer she will undergo a procedure in which doctors will adjust those valves to try and ease the pressure.
“It’s hard,” she said. “There are good days and bad days. I have the normal teenage problems. It’s harder when the medical stuff gets in the way of the normal stuff.”
An average school day starts with Maccoux waking up in some type of headache that, depending on the severity, she treats with anything from Tylenol to prescription medications.
She drives to school, where she takes mainstream classes such as algebra 2 and chemistry and maintains a 3.5 grade-point average. Most Park Center students have six hours of classroom instruction but Maccoux receives five hours with an additional hour online.
Core classes are scheduled in the morning when Maccoux feels at her best. The longer Maccoux sits up, the lower her pressure numbers drop. When needed, Maccoux can rest for 20 minutes in a separate room, adjusting a chair to position her body as needed for pressure numbers to improve. She makes similar adjustments before games, skipping warm-up to lie on the floor as needed to help her pressures settle.
The grind of participating can be costly. When Maccoux came home crying due to pain last week, she postponed her math homework to give her brain the rest of the night off. She is grateful to teachers for their flexibility.
Maccoux and her family share the credo “How do we make it work?” to get through myriad challenges. From carving out padding inside her helmet to make room for the shunts to prioritizing tasks to just listening to her body, Maccoux has maintained a fairly normal life.
“There is a fine line between being cautious and living in fear,” Maccoux said. “I don’t want to live in fear.”
She shares this message as an eight-year member of the Children’s Hospital and Clinics Youth Advisory Council. Maccoux and other council members have provided input in meetings with doctors, nurses and architects on various aspects of patient life. She recently wrote a blog with her tips on keeping up with school work while in the hospital or recovering at home.
The last line read, “remember you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let anything [like being in the hospital] stop you.”