VINCENT - Senior Darci Leffingwell has endured more than her share of sports-related injuries while competing in soccer, softball and basketball.
She has had two surgeries on her fractured right foot after a collision in soccer during her sophomore season. Leffingwell has had multiple concussions playing basketball, the latest occurring Dec. 9 against Marietta when she was hit from behind and fell face first to the court.
In the most recent episode, she sustained a cut above her right eye that required 12 stitches and is expected to be sidelined until Jan. 5, according to WHS girls basketball coach Ryan Werry.
"That girl is accident-prone," teammate Mallory Brooks said flatly of Leffingwell.
That would be a somewhat rash assessment even considering her nearly seasonal injury happenstances.
"We tease her that she's accident-prone," Debbie Leffingwell, Darci's mother, said. "She has weird thing happen. If it's going to be a strange way to get hurt, she figures out how to do it."
During the spring of her junior season, Leffingwell dove back into first base and strained a thumb. The resulting pain was much worse than what she had experienced when she had fractured her foot in soccer.
As the medical bills mounted, the Leffingwells remained perplexed.
"We tried everything," Debbie Leffingwell said. "I mean, if there was a witch doctor that could have helped us, we would have tried that. You get pretty frustrated for them... There's a lot of nights spent trying to explain why somebody keeps getting hurt, but she also plays real hard and that's half the problem. When she goes out there, she doesn't hold it back."
Amy Robinson, Warren's certified athletic trainer, suspected that Leffingwell's injuries were somehow connected. She recalled her instructor at Marietta College, Paul Spears, lecturing about Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a chronic and progressive neurological condition. The syndrome is difficult to pin down because it may develop in an injured leg or arm, recede for years and then reappear with a new injury.
"When the signs and symptoms seem overboard or over exaggerated than what they should have been or how she should have responded after surgery," Robinson said, recalling her thought process in evaluating Leffingwell's medical history. "Just from my training at Marietta College and what Paul Spear taught us about RSD... When things don't seem to make sense and you have somebody who has had surgery, you have to think what could it be. I said, you need to be thinking RSD."
Thus, the Leffingwell's had an altogether new challenge ahead of them.
"RSD makes you feel 10 times worse than it should," Darci Leffingwell explained. "It's not a good thing. I don't like it, but the worse feeling is not being able to play."
From a parent's perspective, dealing with RSD is equally perplexing.
"You just feel helpless because you want to help your kid," Dan Leffingwell, the principal at Warren High School and Darci's father. "You want them to feel good, be healthy and be able to enjoy activities, not just sports, but normal activities like being able to walk correctly or walk without pain.
"We knew we were working with good doctors. It's just a hard thing to really properly diagnose."
Dr. David Lacey confirmed Robinson's suspicions and started treating Darci Leffingwell with medication and physical therapy. In researching treatment for RSD, Dan Leffingwell came across an entirely different course of action - acupuncture.
Administered at Body Logic in Vienna by Qingguo Shang, an Oriental Medical Doctor trained in Beijing, China, the non-conventional treatment turned out to provide quick relief.
"When we tried acupuncture, she immediately responded," Debbie Leffingwell said. By that night, she started having movement."
"Yeah, that really worked well," Darci Leffingwell said. "That was the best."
Acupuncture is "not well understood from the Western point of view," said Matthew Smith, a licensed massage therapist at Body Logic. It involves adjusting the flow of "qi" or the life energy of the body.
So now Darci Leffingwell has finally a handle on RSD.
"For probably two years, I didn't know what it was," she said. "There were times when I thought why in the world it can't happen to somebody else, but I'm tough. I can get over it. It's no big deal."
Her parents were perhaps even more relieved.
"There was some relief because you know what to focus on and you know that your efforts would be rewarded with being cured or being able to overcome it," Dan Leffingwell said. "Whereas before we were trying to overcome it with different things but we really didn't know what the problem was."
The Leffingwells are appreciative of the persistence demonstrated by Robinson, who is in her seventh year as Warren's trainer. "Amy has been right there through the whole thing," Debbie Leffingwell said. "She's the first one who actually mentioned RSD to us.
"She's just been a godsend. She takes care of the kids out her like they're her own. She's helped us research some things and helped figure out what's going on because she wasn't getting any better. A lot of times we take her to some of our doctor's appointments with us because sometimes as parents you forget something or might not explain it quite well enough to the doctor. We would take her us and make sure we got it all straight."
Dan Leffingwell echoed that sentiment.
"Obviously, a lot of thanks goes out to Amy Robinson, who just worked with her endlessly, and I think worked with her to the point where it has really influenced my daughter and what she would like to do as a career."
While painful to have endured, all her extensive medical history may prove valuable for Darci Leffingwell. She plans to pursue a degree in the medical field and work as a physician's assistant.
"All my injuries went into that decision," she said. "I mean, that's the reason I want to do it is because I get hurt all the time."
"There are times when I thought why in the world it can't happen to somebody else, but I'm tough. I can get over it. It's no big deal."