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 shockAlong 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 journeyThe 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. "I'd ask him if he was OK, and he'd go ‘I don't know what I was thinking,'” Vickie said. At first she attributed it to tiredness and the recovery process. It only got worse, however, and the next morning she took him to the emergency room. A CT scan was performed, and Rick was once again taken by MedFlight to Oklahoma City. This time, Rick's brain lining was bleeding in three places, causing a hematoma. This was a result of a blood thinner he had been taking since the initial sickness to deal with a blood clot at the base of his skull. "(The doctor) was really surprised … that he wasn't in a coma,” Vickie said. To avoid a taxing cranial surgery, surgeons had to drill into Rick's skull three separate times — all while he was still awake — to remove the blood. "It's pretty scary when you have these horn things coming out of the side of your head with these huge drainage tubes. I think out of everything that's happened, that was almost the scariest,” Vickie said. "They gave him morphine and said he wouldn't remember, but he remembers. He's pretty tough, tougher than I would ever have been.”
Back in actionAfter consecutive months of craziness, the Roops were understandably excited when June passed without incident. Rick was even able to work a week or two at the office. "Were were just ‘Thank God we're not in the hospital,” Vickie said. The blood clot is still at the base of his neck, requiring the blood thinner. But at this point, doctors feel like Rick's brain has adapted to the pressure of the additional blood caused by the bleeding in the brain lining, Vickie said. Rick is still barred from doing any hard work — especially in the heat — to avoid any additional bleeding. The Roops celebrated their 24th anniversary on July 7th. On Tuesday, Rick went back to work as the athletic director at Altus High School. "That's one of those goals I'm looking forward to so I can get away from (Vickie),” Rick said beforehand, chuckling. "We've been together so much the last two or three months … "More than we have in the 24 years of our marriage because we both have extremely active schedules,” Vickie finished. "I'm not sure ... that we have ever been this much together in consecutive days. It's been crazy.” Rick will go in for another CT scan July 30 to see if any progress has been made. If so, he may be able to officiate games. Oh, and ride his beloved Harley again. "I've practiced for 32 years, and I've seen plenty of pneumococcal meningitis. I've never seen one as severe as this,” said Dr. Vadakepat Ramgopal, the infectious diseases specialist who treated Rick. "I never thought he would make it. The guy is amazing.”
Rick Roop and wife Vickie shown during a photo shoot in 1995 when both were referees. THE OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVE