Michele, then a young adult and fully aware of the gravity of the situation she was facing, said, “It was too much to think about and it freaked me out. But I felt worse for my parents and my sister, who had to watch me go through all of this.”

After undergoing a procedure to temporarily get rid of the blood clots, Michele spent the next few days in ICU awaiting what was to come. She was put on Coumadin to prevent additional clotting, but it wasn’t a long term solution for the young athlete. That medication can place people at risk of bleeding and dictates a sedentary lifestyle. So while it could have saved her life then, it would have left 14 year old Michele with no life or certainly not the life she wanted back for herself.

At that point, she cared less about dying and more about never being able to play soccer again.

So the only option was another open-heart surgery to repair the damage to her heart. Watching her teenage daughter go through this for the second time in just ten years, Margaret shared, “I thought I was in a movie, watching someone else’s life unfold in front of me. The fear, anxiety, and the possibility of her not surviving were more than any mother could imagine. It’s hard for me to even put it into words.” She felt helpless, “All I could do was pray and wished that is was me instead of her.”

Michele had the surgery on May 24, 1995. It was a grueling 7 hour procedure and while the doctors deemed it a success, they said they could not predict her future.

What followed were months of rest and cardiac rehab (she was the youngest person in her rehab program by over 40 years). Michele finished out her freshman year of high school at home with the help of tutors. That summer was a long one for her and she told us, “What upset me the most was that I couldn’t play any sports.” It was hard for her to comprehend all the physical restrictions because she felt great. So, despite doctors’ warnings, strong willed Michele managed to shoot some baskets in her family’s driveway after only two weeks back home. She was determined to come back better than ever.

“I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without my family… a mother and father who I can count on for anything and an amazing sister who is just so comforting to be around.”

In fall of 1995, Michele headed back to school as a sophomore, but was not allowed to play soccer, which killed her because it was her sister Tara’s senior year and their last chance to play on the team together. That following January, she got the news she had been waiting for. Her family was planning a ski trip and knowing how desperately Michele wanted to get back to life as she knew it, her parents pushed her doctors to green light her doing something athletic. So skiing and badminton were back in, but basketball and soccer were still out.

Obrien family ski trip

January 1996: Margaret, Michael, Tara & Michele on first family ski trip post-surgery

Unwilling to accept a life with any limitations, Michele filled the summer of 1996 with jogging, climbing, rollerblading, and some basketball (which she managed to play in secret). She was on a relentless quest to recondition her body and rebuild her strength and stamina. Her doctors were continuously amazed at her progress and improvements. So much so, they gave her the all clear to play soccer again that fall.

It had been almost two years since she was last on the St. Anthony’s soccer field playing with her team. Returning as a junior for her first season back, Michele says, “It was the greatest day of my life.” And she has continued on a path of greatness ever since.

onto the pro circuit and international stardom… continue reading

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