EDNA — Shelby Keith will never forget her 16th birthday.
Keith didn’t get her driver’s license, have a party, or eat a special dinner.
Instead, she was able to celebrate at home less than a week after undergoing open-heart surgery.
“My doctors told me I had beaten all the odds,” she said. “I was in ICU overnight instead of 3-4 days. I was in hospital recovery for 3-4 days when it was predicted to be a week. I left the hospital on March 29 and my birthday is March 30.”
Keith was diagnosed with pulmonary stenosis before she was born. Her heart was underdeveloped and her pulmonary valve is basically nonfunctional.
Doctors told Keith she would have surgery at some point, but were hoping to hold off until her body was more fully developed.
“I went to the doctor every six months,” she said. “I was in first grade when I heard about surgery. But we were pushing it back because if you grow, you could have more surgery.”
Keith was able to participate in extracurricular activities until her sophomore year of high school at Edna.
Keith had just completed volleyball season when she constantly began feeling fatigued.
She was forced to leave school and do class work from home. Her lone physical activity was taking walks.
“I was going home taking naps, sleeping all-day long,” Keith said. “They did MRIs, stress tests, CT scans just to make sure, but I needed surgery.”
Keith underwent surgery at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston on March 24, 2019, but her speedy recovery was a promising sign.
She was able to play volleyball as a junior, but her hopes of competing in track & field for the first time since her freshman year were dashed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was excited to see what was in store because I had already been successful in my other sports,” Keith said.
Keith finally got the opportunity to get on the track this season under second-year coach Ashley Myers, who also participated in track & field at Edna before running at Texas Lutheran University.
“I keep an eye on her,” Myers said. “I know some things affect her a little differently than the others. She lets me know when things aren’t going right and she’s not feeling right. I’ll let her sit down and give her the rest she needs.”
Keith is not allowed to max out in the weight room, and she sometimes has to take a break after her races or in practice.
“It’s a little difficult,” she said. “Every day is its own challenge with the weather. The colder, windier weather makes it more difficult to finish a workout than a normal sunny day.”
Keith helped the Cowgirls win their sixth straight district title at the 28-3A meet by finishing first in the 100-meter dash, long jump and triple jump and running a leg on the winning 800-meter relay and the 400-meter relay that finished second.
“She gives her all in everything she does, she’s selfless and she does everything for her teammates,” Myers said. “She’s there for her team and just an awesome athlete.”
Keith showed her willingness to sacrifice for the team when she pulled out of the 100 and triple jump at the Region IV-3A meet so the 400 and 800 relay teams would have a better chance to qualify for the UIL state meet.
The move paid off as both relays qualified for the state meet, which is scheduled for Thursday at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.
“It was a very hard decision as a coach just because she’s been doing so well in the 100 all season long,” Myers said. “But sitting down and talking with her and laying it all out, we both came to the conclusion let’s take her out of these events and try to get the team as far as we can.”
Keith is excited for her first opportunity to run at the state meet after making it to the regional meet as a freshman.
“I was hoping,” she said. “I never thought two years ago being in a hospital bed recovering, barely being able to walk on my own that I would be running at a state track meet.”
Keith must undergo yearly checkups, but has good reason to look to the future.
She will graduate with a 3.95 un-weighted grade-point average and is ranked third in her class.
Keith has no plans to continue athletics, but will attend Houston Baptist University in the fall and is determined to get a degree.
“I learned that I can pull off more than I think,” she said. “Mentally, it helps a lot like when I feel down and I’m not doing enough, I can look back and see that I pulled through all that. It really helps when you’re down. You see that you’re capable of more than you think.”