ELKHART — Cadence Lee is hitting .524 as a catcher for the Elkhart Memorial High School softball team this spring.
Cadence Lee also was fighting for her life as recently as December.
The story is one of toughness, pain and eventually a return to near normalcy.
"I'm really kinda surprised with myself in some ways,'' Lee admitted. "I've always been a hard worker and I was used to being on the go between softball and music practices and work, so being down for so long was torture. But I'm almost back to where I was before I got sick, but now and then something small will trigger a reaction and it takes me back.''
Lee's frightening ordeal began in late November, when she had her appendix removed at Elkhart General Hospital.
"I was having some stomach issues for awhile, but I really wasn't sure what it was,'' Lee said. "So I went to my general practitioner, but she didn't think it was appendicitis because the pain wasn't real bad, so she just gave me a couple of pain killers and said if I had more pain, I should go to the emergency room.
"A few days later, I was really hurting in class and asked for a pass to go to the nurse. But I just drove right to the ER and let them know what was going on.''
Lee went into surgery to have her appendix removed, but it ruptured during the surgery at Elkhart General, which caused an infection. After being released, she was back in the ER a few days later and was back in the hospital.
Then in December, things got real serious.
Unable to eat or drink, Lee went back to the hospital and was admitted with a temperature of 103.8. Doctors would find an abscess and infection in her abdomen that became sepsis.
Sepsis is a potentially life-threatening condition caused by the body's response to an infection. The body normally releases chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection, but sepsis occurs when the body's response to these chemicals is out of balance, triggering changes that can damage multiple organ systems.
"On Dec. 21st, I was afraid we were going to lose her,'' Cadence's father Robert Lee admitted. "After 23 days, the infection was throughout her abdomen. She had three drain lines in and they couldn't reach a fourth area near her lung because they didn't want the infection to get in her lungs. So they drained it with a needle and we prayed the meds would kick in. They were fighting to cure her without life-altering procedures.''
Fortunately, they were able to do just that.
"I remember going to the ER and being in a lot of pain,'' Cadence said. "During the night my vitals started dropping and I can remember being wheeled out of my room and going up to the Intensive Care Unit. Then, I really don't remember much for the next few days.''
On Dec. 28, Cadence went home after 18 days in the hospital. She had a portable IV, which would be a constant companion until Jan. 20.
"I had the PICC line next to my heart, pumping antibiotics into me 24-7,'' Lee said. "I obviously slept with it, but they wouldn't allow me in school in fear of another infection. I couldn't take my finals at the end of the first semester, but my teachers were great about allowing me to make things up.''
Lee, who would lose 25 pounds during the ordeal, has a GPA of just over 4.0 at Memorial.
Once she got back to school and feeling better, her toughness and stubborn side began to show.
In early November, Lee was named the lead for Memorial's musical, "All Shook Up.'' But with the senior unable to practice through January, it looked like Cadence's understudy would take over the role.
"I still had my IV in, but I went in and asked the director if I could come in the next day and try to get the role back,'' Lee said. "Fortunately, we had a snow day and by the time we started school back up, I had the line out. I had a lot of work to do to prove myself ... learning the choreography and the music, plus it was a little tiring after not doing anything for so long. But I would take little breathers backstage and even lie down for a second here and there to just relax.
"The play turned out to be a big help for me when softball came around, because the singing and dancing helped build some of the lung capacity that I lost when I was sick.''
Even before the play, Lee performed with the Indiana All-State Choir with the PICC line in. She also had to learn how to administer the drugs by herself while out of town.
Lee would return to softball and coach Craig Sears at the start of practice in early March, but she was far from 100 percent.
"It was a little weird at first because I didn't have the muscles I used to have,'' Lee said. "I kept going to coach about wanting to lift weights and do some strengthening drills, but he was worried about me, so I'd just try to run a few extra laps at practice and try to help develop my game a little faster. I even walked in heels a lot to help my calves get stronger.''
"She is one tough kid and she's been with us every day,'' Sears said. "We kept in communication when she was down and I knew how serious thing were. Even when the season started I didn't catch her all the time because I thought her body still needed some time to get better. But she didn't like to not be catching.''
In addition to her .524 batting average, Lee is second on the team (by one) in RBI's with 27, has hit three homers and has an on base percentage of .560. She also has 11 doubles and has stolen six bases.
The Crimson Chargers open the Class 4A Warsaw Sectional on Wednesday against Northridge.
"Cadence has always been a very good defensive catcher, but this season, she's turned it up a notch offensively too,'' Sears said. "She just works so hard and has become the leader of our team this season.''
Not only does Lee have softball, but she's also part of three bands, three choirs and is doing an internship two days a week at the middle school, as she prepares to major in music education in college. She's also getting up at 4 a.m. most days to work at Dunkin Donuts.
According to Robert Lee, Cadence is also teaching herself the violin, saxaphone and trombone this spring.
On May 28th, Cadence Lee will sign to play softball and study at Goshen College and next fall, she'll be one of thousands of teenagers starting their college career.
"I'm just ready to move on and feel 100 percent all the time,'' Cadence said. "It's been a long senior year, but I've learned a lot about myself and what I can do in the future.''