From ICU to MVP
It was a miraculous moment when Mekayla Frazier walked out onto the varsity softball diamond as a sixth-grader.
Five years earlier, doctors didn't know what her health would allow her to do. Frazier's life was in limbo. Now, as a 17-year-old, Frazier's everyday life is shaped by a series of events that a first-grader should never have to go through. She's thriving as a student and athlete at Gulliver Prep (Pinecrest, Fla.), and most importantly as an ambassador in her community.
For her amazing resilience and spirit, Frazlier has been named Semper Fidelis Athlete of the Month, presented by the Marines.
She has the opportunity to attend the Battles Won Academy in Washington, D.C., this summer. Such an opportunity looked like a long shot early in her life.
One week after her sixth birthday, the always cheerful Mekayla was knocked down with symptoms similar to a cold. Things weren't quite right, so the Fraziers raced to the ER where Mekayla was administered a number of tests. Results came back with rough news: Mekayla had contracted bacterial pneumonia with a pleural effusion, also known as "water on the lungs." She was immediately whisked away to the pediatric ICU at Baptist Hospital in Miami.
"I think Mekayla had an unbelievable appreciation for life that is beyond what any of us can understand.”
A chain reaction of events took place. Mekayla was septic and her kidneys began to fail. Morphine was administered to reduce the pain. Mekayla's breathing was suppressed and her body was shutting down.
"Everything that could go wrong in the first few weeks happened, and many times we were told they weren't ‘winning the battle,' " said Mekayla's mother, Kelly.
Due to kidney failure, Mekayla couldn't eat or drink for days. Her mom recalls how the pain sucked the energy right out of her. Eventually, however, Mekayla's body started to react positively. After 6½ weeks in the ICU, she was moved to a non-critical unit for recovery.
Mekayla was given the OK to get out of bed and take short walks. However, since she was inactive for so long, her leg muscles had atrophied and she couldn't walk. Every day — determined to return to her normal self — Mekayla fought through the pain and regained the ability to walk.
"Her determination got her back on her feet and thankfully she has been healthy ever since leaving that hospital," Kelly Frazier said.
"In the moment, I never realized how tough it actually was because I was so young. All I wanted to do was play," Mekayla said. "But I know all the people around me, they could tell that something was wrong, of course, because I couldn't walk. But now that I look back on it and I'm proud of myself because I've realized how far I've been able to get."
While she was in the hospital, Mekayla met Laurie Sargent, who was in charge of the hospital's pediatric unit at the time. She would bring Mekayla some toys each day to play with in the hospital's playroom. If Mekayla was having a tough day, getting 30 minutes to play was a huge deal.
After being released, Mekayla spent the next year in and out of checkups before getting the all-clear from doctors.
Following a tumultuous 12 months, Mekayla's mom wanted to throw her daughter a blowout party for her seventh birthday. It was to celebrate Mekayla's health and all those who supported the family through the rough patch.
"At 7 years old she was asked, ‘What would you like for your birthday?'" Kelly Frazier said. "She thought about it and came back and said, ‘I don't need anything, I want to help Laurie. I want to replace some of those gifts.'
"When she said it, we were just floored. And, we said it was a great idea."
Kelly reached out to Sargent, who also thought the idea was grand. Sargent came up with a list of items that were needed for the playroom, and on Mekayla's birthday invitation it was noted that those attending could bring an item in lieu of a present for Mekayla.
Her goal is to help other kids who face a similar challenge she had to overcome.
"Even at such a young age, I could recognize what it's like to be in that kind of atmosphere and want some sort of hope," Frazier said. "I feel like having something like that playroom gave me hope. So, I think a way I can give back is by giving gifts that allows kids to have some sort of hope, just like it allowed me."
For the last 11 birthdays, Frazier has donated gifts to the hospital's playroom. She plans on doing it for the rest of her life.
What Frazier went through as a youngster has been so impactful on her daily life.
"It's definitely made me more appreciative of just every opportunity that I have," Frazier said. "Every opportunity that I have I'm going to take advantage of it. Every single practice I get, it makes me want to be a better player every second. I'll practice my hardest, then I'll play my hardest."
Mark Shusterman has coached Frazier for six years and watched her mature as a person and athlete.
"What she went through as a young child and the fact that she turned it into something she appreciates the people that were there for her and helped her and went out of her way to do things is a big part of her growth process," Schusterman said.
Once Frazier recovered from her sickness, she was full speed ahead with sports. She was active in softball, soccer and volleyball. Nothing was slowing her down this time around.
As a sixth-grader, Frazier impressed Shusterman, who is the Gulliver Prep varsity softball coach, so much he added her onto the varsity roster.
Remarkably five years after battling the sickness and not being able to walk, she was a varsity athlete as an 11-year-old.
Kelly Frazier had her doubts about her daughter playing at that level that young but in Mekayla's first career at-bat, she hit an inside-the-park home run.
"You had to wonder, how was a sixth-grader going to handle the pressure or how's she going to handle being on the field facing 18-year-olds? You know what? She was fine," Kelly Frazier said. "Again, I think she loves playing the sport. I think she loves the camaraderie and she loves playing on a team. I think that helped the older players accept her quickly because she always gave everything she had."
Frazier wrapped up her sixth season playing varsity softball, which was perhaps her best season yet. As her team's third baseman — she's played multiple positions over the years, including being the No. 1 pitcher in seventh grade — Frazier had a .473 batting average with two home runs, 22 RBI, 46 runs scored and 21 stolen bases.
"A tremendous player," Schusterman said. "She was our MVP."
Frazier, who is getting heavily recruited by ACC and Ivy League schools, was just as impactful on the soccer field. The two-year captain has started since she was a freshman.
If her kind heart to volunteer and her great athletic ability aren't enough, Frazier is a standout student. With a 4.25 weighted grade point average, every one of her classes in her final semester this year were either Advanced Placement or honors.
Along with trying to make an impact at the hospital with young pediatric patients, Frazier does plenty of other good deeds.
For the last two years, Frazier has been helping with the Miracle League. Kids with disabilities are able to play baseball no matter what their challenges are. Frazier is teamed up with a buddy each season and she shadows that player and helps them play the game. She finds it extremely rewarding to see the kids' reactions to little things other people take for granted on a daily basis.
"It definitely opens up your eyes to literally the world, not even just about the game," Frazier said. "Seeing how people are so accepting of each other and it definitely has taught me so many lessons."
Schusterman is amazed that even with Frazier's hectic schedule on and off the diamond, she squeezes in time to help others.
"She does it whenever she has the opportunity," Schusterman said. "What's amazing is what you're trying to teach so many kids in today's world how to prioritize. Mekayla still finds the time to organize herself to do things and continue to play sports and continue to academically do very, very well."
Looking back 11 years when Frazier fought for her life, that's given her so much perspective. When Frazier embarks on something, she always gives 200%, her mom noted.
"No parent would ever wish what happened to Mekayla on a child; however, if you're going to find a silver lining, I think Mekayla had an unbelievable appreciation for life that is beyond what any of us can understand," Kelly Frazier said.
"After she had gotten sick and we got to the hospital, I think it definitely made an impact on all of us and I would like to say that we complain a little less than we used to, and we have some takeaways. But I just really think that she just has this sincere appreciation for every moment."
Frazier honestly feels blessed for the journey she's gone through in life and being able to help others along the way.
"I'm trying to make them as positive as possible," Frazier said. "I think if I would have looked at this in a negative way, I don't think I'd be in this exact position that I'm in."