TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – I met Kristyna Brabencova, a sophomore on the University of South Florida women’s basketball team, before the beginning of March Madness.
She joined the Zoom meeting from her bedroom wearing a bright pink sweatshirt with the words “Women Ball Too” printed across the front of it.
She responded to my generic, “How are you?” inquiry with the least generic response, “I am fabulous.”
Yes, Brabencova is fabulous. She is playing in the second round of the NCAA tournament in Texas on Tuesday and she is doing it despite a surprising diagnosis.
“I had symptoms last year, which is how we found out,” said Brabencova.
She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in February of 2020 after she complained of not being able to see clearly out of her right eye.
“I was seeing white spots,” she said, “and it made feel really bad because I do not wear glasses or contacts or anything like that so I was like, ‘This is really weird.’”
Initially, she thought she had allergies because she had never been in Tampa in the spring. When the eye drops and the assortment of allergy medications failed to fix the problem, Brabencova visited an ophthalmologist.
“I was there for like four or five hours,” she said, “and I was seeing more doctors and more doctors and I did every test possible and they were like, ‘We have to try this, we have to try this.’ Then they were like, ‘You have to go to the hospital immediately,’ and, then, I started getting really worried.”
Brabencova went to the hospital with Anita Fanelli, the associate athletic trainer for the Bulls. She highlighted the days surrounding her diagnosis as some of her most difficult days.
“I was so scared,” she said, “because they were doing all of the MRIs with my head and with my spine and so many different tests and I did not understand why they were doing it because nothing was really bothering me.”
She had trouble understanding the medical terminology too. Brabencova is from the Czech Republic so English is not her first language.
“I was not sure if that was the right diagnosis so I was Googling everything,” she said. “I was in the hospital with my coaches and everything but my family was not there and I was like, ‘This is going to be a huge part of my life,’ and I did not even know how to say it to my parents on the phone.”
Thankfully, her mother had already been contacted by her team. She was traveling to Florida to be with her daughter.
“I was sitting on a couch with my mom and I just start crying,” said Brabencova, “and I could not stop for four or five hours. I was saying, ‘This is going to be bad. This is going to be bad.’ I was thinking about the whole future. I was thinking if I could have kids, if I could have a family, things like that. Usually, I do not worry about these things but, when they said it and you start thinking about it, this is just going to change my life.”
The multiple sclerosis diagnosis has changed her but, as she puts it, it has changed her for the better. She has mild symptoms but she is able to control them with two treatments every year.
“I get infusions,” she said, “so I got one in October and then the next one I am going to have after the season in April. I felt really bad after it because I had a headache and I was really tired and there was something in my body so, until I get used to it, it was so different.”
She feels she will experience the negative side effects less and less with every additional treatment.
“I feel really really good the last few weeks and few months,” she said. “I felt much better than I felt before and I feel like I found myself and what I want to do and I am just happy that I can do everything that I want and what I choose to do.”