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Back from the brink
Pneumococcal meningitis: A miraculous recovery
His doctor thought he would die, but Altus AD overcomes the odds

By Zach West Published: July 18, 2008
Reclining comfortably at his daughter's house in Surrey Hills, silver-haired Rick Roop eagerly recites the number of days left until he can once again ride his Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

One can hardly blame him. Rick, 51, is the athletic director at Altus High School. And just six months ago, he didn't appear to have many days left, period. He was in a coma.

Sudden shock
Along with his school duties, Rick has worked for years as a basketball official, often alongside his wife, Vickie, the girls golf coach at Altus.

On Feb. 24, the Roops were feeling under the weather with flu-like symptoms, but decided to go ahead and drive to Texas to work a game. While Vickie was able to officiate, Rick grew worse and had to pull out with severe headaches and vomiting.

The next day, both called in sick to work. Still feeling horrible, they laid down for a nap in separate rooms after trying to eat lunch together.

Just before 3 p.m., Vickie awoke. Rick didn't. Finding her husband hardly breathing and comatose, Vickie called 911, and Rick was rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed with meningitis. The next morning, Rick was transported to Integris Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma City by MedFlight, in a full coma.

The diagnosis: Rick had pneumococcal meningitis, a bacterial inflammation or infection of the membranes covering the brain or spinal cord.

The outlook: dismal.

"(The doctor) looked us straight in the eye and he just said, ‘It's as bad as it gets, and you don't survive.'” Vickie said. "From that point … you're like, you've got to be kidding me. Just less than 24 hours before, we were on the road together.”

Two days later, the situation hadn't improved. Rick wasn't responding to medicine. An MRI revealed the culprit: Rick had a severe sinus infection and a severe infection behind his right ear. Surgery was performed the next day, a Friday.

Finally, on Saturday, March 1, after six gut-wrenching days, Rick awoke from his coma.

"I told him I was going to sell his Harley and got a response,” Vickie said, laughing. "We were extremely fortunate to get him back. We're a very close family, and we were right there talking to him every day. He's a fighter.”

The meningitis took a heavy toll, however, as Rick lost sight in his right eye and 45 percent hearing in his right ear. He also lost nearly 30 pounds off his six-foot-frame, putting him very near his playing weight as a football player at Central State 30 years ago.

A tough journey
The road to recovery was anything but easy.

Over a month later, on April 18, Rick had to be rushed to the hospital to have his gall bladder removed.

Nearly a month after that, on May 14, Vickie noticed Rick couldn't keep a train of thought.

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Rick Roop and wife Vickie shown during a photo shoot in 1995 when both were referees. THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE


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