On the rebound

Wasilla's Kroon back from transplant

Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2005

 

  Brittney Kroon from Seattle Pacific University stands for a photo after receiving the Inspiration Award in women's collegiate athletics Wednesday, June 29, 2005 at Columbia University in New York. Kroon played basketball for Seattle Pacific and is one of only two known liver transplant patients to go on to compete in NCAA athletics. AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

Brittney Kroon from Seattle Pacific University stands for a photo after receiving the Inspiration Award in women's collegiate athletics Wednesday, June 29, 2005 at Columbia University in New York. Kroon played basketball for Seattle Pacific and is one of only two known liver transplant patients to go on to compete in NCAA athletics.

AP Photo/Julie Jacobson

NEW YORK — Before Brittney Kroon could become an inspiration, she first needed a chance.

The 6-foot-4 high school center from Wasilla, Alaska, looked like everybody's All-American on the outside — tall, talented, intelligent. But inside, Kroon was fighting a losing battle with liver disease.

Without a transplant, her life on and off the basketball court was in constant doubt.

''A time of total confusion,'' her father, Larry Kroon said. ''You just have to give up and say, you can't orchestrate the future.''

Kroon got that chance, and she's made the most of it. Kroon rebounded from surgery in 2002 to star at Seattle Pacific the past two seasons. After leading the Falcons to the Division II championship game in March, the junior was given the 2005 Inspiration Award at the Collegiate Women Sports Awards on Wednesday.

''It's one of those things where you're picked out of a lot of people like you, so it's an honor to be acknowledged,'' Kroon said.

Kroon's comeback from autoimmune hepatitis didn't come without some heartbreaking drama.

Her first shot at a cure came three years ago — and disappeared just as fast, turning what should have been one of the best nights of her life into one of the worst.

After a tough three-point loss in the state championship game, Kroon's family returned to find three messages on the answering machine. The first one brought the news she had waited two years to hear: Doctors had located a donor.

By the end of the third, she had already missed her chance.

''We got the first message saying the hospital had a match and that they needed a call back,'' Kroon said. ''The second message said they needed a call back before midnight.''

That's when Kroon looked at the clock. She didn't need to hear the third message.

''We got a sinking feeling,'' Kroon said. ''To put it in words, it's hard. It's just one of those moments that you don't want to relive.''

Kroon's beeper had gone off while she was playing in the game, and her parents never heard the cell phone ring over the roar of the crowd.

''That was probably the lowest point in my life at that point,'' Kroon said. ''Not only is your dream of a championship gone, but you just missed a second chance at life.''

But the Kroons are a family of faith. Larry Kroon, a pastor, never gave up hope his daughter would get the operation she needed.

He only had to wait five more days.

On Good Friday, less than three weeks before Brittney Kroon's 18th birthday, she got the call. She had the transplant on March 31, 2002.

''Easter morning I walk in and she's got her new liver, and ... she's got a new life,'' Larry Kroon said. ''I have a hard time preaching Easter sermons now. It brings back too many memories.''

If Kroon hadn't had the surgery before she turned 18 — when she was legally still a child — she probably would have had to wait two or three years for the operation.

After surgery, Kroon had to rest three months before starting rehabilitation. That didn't stop Seattle Pacific coach Gordy Presnell from taking a chance on her.

Good move.

After spending most of her first year on the bench, Kroon led the nation in blocked shots in 2003-04 with 135. The Falcons finished the 2002-03 and 2003-04 regular seasons undefeated and reached the championship game last season before losing.

Kroon's already in the all-time Division II top 10 in blocked shots and her next one will break the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's record.

''It was an absolute honor to be part of Brittney's life,'' Presnell said. ''Getting to coach her the last three years was one of my highlights in coaching.''

Presnell moved on to Division I Boise State during the offseason after 18 years at Seattle Pacific, a promotion no doubt aided by Kroon's strong play in the middle.

Kroon, of course, still has one more year as a Falcon. After that, she's hesitant to guess where she'll end up. Maybe basketball, maybe teaching. With a 3.74 GPA, she could probably do what ever she chooses.

''Brittney meets everything that comes at here without even stopping to think, 'Can I get through this?'' her father said. ''You get to the point where you think, 'I'd go anywhere with this kid.'''



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