A slow walk to success: Timberline's Kourtney Brown overcomes seven surgeries

Timberline tennis player couldn't walk — now she's undefeated.

rroberts@idahostatesman.comApril 25, 2014 

After losing a set for the first time this season, Kourtney Brown did nothing but smile and give her doubles partner Brooke Hadley a high-five.

The way Brown sees it, things could be a lot worse.

Losing a tennis match?

That's nothing compared to nearly losing a left foot.

Having suffered through two years of immobility and seven surgeries, the 18-year-old Timberline High senior is making up for lost time in a big way this spring. Brown and Hadley are 17-0 at No. 1 girls doubles, andfavored to win the Capital Invitational in the Valley this weekend.

"It's just nice to see a kid get a second chance," Timberline coach Jim Moortgat said.

Brown's physical troubles started with pain in her left foot during the fall of her sophomore year.

An X-ray proved inconclusive, so Brown received a cortisone shot and was placed in a stabilizing boot in hopes of eliminating the discomfort.

Instead of getting better, Brown's foot swelled to double its size and turned black and blue.

A surgery on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012, revealed she had fractured one of her sesamoid bones — two pea-sized bones under the main joint of the big toe — in several places. The fragments were removed, and Brown was placed in a boot for several months of recovery.

"They were taking out stitches, and it just looked like the skin right around my big toe was falling apart," Brown said. "Kind of like a hole was there."

A second minor surgery to clean the wound was performed, but without success.

"This time, a giant hole the size of a quarter developed on the side of my foot," Brown said. "I could see my bones and everything. That definitely freaked me out because I faint when I see blood and I hate medical things."

Doctors tried three more surgeries to open the wound and clean it, a skin graft, a Wound V.A.C. (vacuum assisted closure therapy), and finally a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter) line.

The unexplained infection remained. Even an infectious disease specialist could not solve the problem.

"At that point it got real," Brown said. "I was like, 'Is this actually happening?' "

Brown was well into her junior year of high school when she was referred to the University of Utah hospital in Salt Lake City.

By then, she had been using a medical scooter for more than a year to help her get around, and classmates in the hallways started calling her "Scooter Girl.''

She was able to brush off the teasing, but there was no way to prepare for what her new doctors in Utah were about to tell her.

"(The doctor) said that he could go in there and try and take the whole skin from the top of my foot and move it to the side of my foot to try and stimulate growth," Brown said.

If the surgery didn't work, the next step was amputation.

"I basically freaked out in the doctor's office," Brown said. "The second he said that, I looked at my mom and we were both crying."

Brown and her family decided it was best to go ahead with surgery Aug. 13, 2012. Faced with the unsettling possibilities of the unknown, Brown found a way to be positive.

"I was just like, 'This has to work. I can do this one more time,' '' she said.

Added Brown's mom, Annette: "She's kept the right attitude. We've cried a lot, but she's never gone down the road that's 'poor me.' "

When the stitches were removed after her sixth surgery, there was no sign of infection.

"We don't really know what caused the infection, other than that it was hospital-oriented, they think," Brown said. "It was a very rare virus or infection that none of the doctors had seen before."

With physical therapy, she was able to start walking and trying to play tennis, but she still couldn't move her big toe, which severely limited her mobility.

Doctors proposed a seventh surgery to reconstruct Brown's foot.

"What's the point of putting it off? I know I'm going to have to have it. Seventh surgery, maybe it will be lucky," Brown said.

Brown's hunch was right.

"I woke up from the surgery and they said everything worked out OK," she said.

A metal rod was left in her foot for several months to hold everything in place during the healing process.

"I could twist the rod, and I hate things like that so much," Brown said.

Once the rod was removed, and she was cleared for activity in July of 2013, Brown was hesitant to start, but one step at a time, she's gotten through it.

"It's still been hard. Even playing tennis, I forget to move my feet sometimes just because I sat in a bed for two years," Brown said.

Before this season, Brown hadn't played a high school tennis match since she took third in girls doubles at the 5A state tournament her freshman year.

At the time, it felt like a disappointment.

Brown has a much different perspective now.

"She's good at keeping the mood light," Hadley said. "If I mess up, she's fine with it. She just encourages me more."

On Wednesday, after winning their first set against sisters Hannah and Sophie Uhlenkott of Meridian High, Brown and Hadley found themselves in an unfamiliar place - on the losing end of set two.

Brown's smile remained as she walked on her heels to relieve the pressure on her surgically repaired foot while twirling her tennis racket in her hands.

"Let's go Wolves," she yelled.

It ended up being their longest match of the year, but Brown and Hadley held on for a 6-2, 6-7 (12), 6-1 victory. They are considered a favorite to win a 5A state title next month in Boise.

Challenges on the tennis court feel more like an opportunity these days.

Defeat has lost its sting.

"Now in life, when I think something is bad,'' Brown said, "I'm like, it's really not that bad.''

CAPITAL INVITATIONAL TENNIS SCHEDULE

The 34th annual event includes 32 teams from four states. Matches begin at 9:30 a.m. Friday and 8 a.m. Saturday. All championship finals, weather permitting, start at 2 p.m. Saturday at Julia Davis Park.

Match locations:

No. 1 boys singles — Timberline High

No. 2 boys singles — East Junior High

No. 3 boys singles — Fort Boise

No. 4 boys singles — Borah High

No. 1 girls singles — Meridian High

No. 2 girls singles — Eagle High

No. 3 girls singles — Mountain View High

No. 4 girls singles — Lewis & Clark Middle School

No. 1 boys doubles — Julia Davis

No. 2 boys doubles — Capital High

No. 1 girls doubles — Rocky Mountain High

No. 2 girls doubles — Heritage Middle School

No. 1 mixed doubles — Centennial High

No. 2 mixed doubles — Sawtooth Middle School

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