Mackenzie Jensen will be a senior this season at Village Christian High School in Sun Valley, Calif. The 6-foot-2 middle, who turned 17 last month, has committed to Concordia Irvine.
It’s a far cry from that time when she missed more than three months of the eighth grade when a concussion caused her to lose feeling in her hands, legs and feet.
“It clicked in my mind that life is not all about volleyball,” Mackenzie said.
Mackenzie’s mother, Michelle, described the situation at the Huntington Middle School gym in San Marino that October day almost four years ago. She watched her daughter dive for a ball on the floor and she hit her face flush, her forehead getting the worst of it.
“She got up, but I could tell something was wrong,” Michelle said. “She’s a bit of a never-say-die kid. I looked at her and said, ‘Are you all right?’ And she shook her head no. I asked if she needed to sit down and she looked at me like I was from another planet!”
Mackenzie has a muddled recollection of the moment, but “I remember complaining about my nose hurting.”
Mackenzie finished the set, but her mom knew she wasn’t right.
After the set ended, Michelle said she went to the coach and said she was taking Mackenzie home.
“We called the doctor and he said to watch for certain symptoms,” Michelle said.
They got home and Mackenzie threw up.
She then went to sleep, but woke up startled.
“I realized I can’t like feel my hands,” she said. “Just my right one to start.”
Michelle said Mackenzie came to her parents.
“She told us, ‘I can’t feel my fingers. Is that a problem?’ Yeah, it was the very definition of a problem,” Michelle said.
They took her to Huntington Hospital in Pasadena and “Huntington ambulanced her over to Children’s Hospital,” Michelle said. “She was in Children’s Hospital for over a week. I was pulled aside by one of the doctors because the numbness extended from her hands to her feet. It was rough.”
Mackenzie didn’t know what to think.
“I was basically going numb,” she said. “I couldn’t walk, because it was like your feet are asleep.”
She has memories of MRIs, CAT scans, sleeping 18-20 hours a day and ultimately being in the hospital for nearly two weeks.
“I was freaked out that I couldn’t play volleyball,” she said with a laugh. “I was 13, so I wasn’t thinking about my future life might be changed, just that I might not play volleyball again.
“My dream at that time was I wanted to go to USC and I wanted to go to the Olympics like every volleyball player first dreams about.”
She had headaches and her nose was sore.
“I’d had migraines in the past, but this was worse than migraines,” Mackenzie said.
And the feeling wasn’t returning to her extremities.
“They would blindfold me and poke me in my foot.”
She could move everything but just couldn’t feel.
“It was the weirdest thing. It was like my entire body was asleep from the neck down.”
Mackenzie said she would wake up in a panic.
“I was sleep deprived, I couldn’t feel anything anywhere …”
She said that about 10 days after being in the hospital, “I decided I wanted to try and walk and I tried and I just fell. That was the day the doctors were figuring how to tell me I wasn’t going to walk again.”
Michelle said that was a devastating day.
“The doctor said he thought it could be permanent,” Michelle said.
There were no broken bones, her spine seemed OK, but the doctor said, “If she was going to get better we should have started seeing improvement already. So you’re going to have get yourself ready to be in the room when she hears that she may not ever play again and that she may not regain sensation in her hands and feet again.”
It’s hard to fathom a parent getting that diagnosis.
“That was a long, rough Saturday night,” Michelle said, but things finally went in a positive direction.
“Sunday morning they did the normal ‘Can you feel this?’ test and she moved. She started regaining feeling and it was a slow process.”
Slow might be an understatement.
Mackenzie couldn’t go to school because she couldn’t handle light or a lot of stimulation. A teacher came in the afternoon and worked with her.
She finally returned to school in February and slowly got back into physical shape. Mackenzie, who plays for San Gabriel Elite, missed the first part of that club season but finally got back to as close to normal as she could, although she admitted to having learning problems and some stuttering.
“We’ve been very careful with her,” Michelle said.
Mackenzie transferred from Monrovia after her freshman year to Village Christian, but her battle with concussions didn’t end. As her dad, Jeep, pointed out, it happened again when she was 15, this time when a teammate hit an overpass in practice and rocked her.
“The club was very proactive,” Jeep said.
That time, she had some temporary vision loss and started stuttering again.
“I just remember, yeah, I’m not OK. I was stuttering like crazy. Couldn’t get words out.”
What’s more, her hands starting getting numb again.
“That scared me,” Mackenzie said.
She was back in the hospital again for a few days, but luckily she improved fairly quickly.
Not that her travails were over.
She was driving by then and she was in a parking lot when, she said, “a girl was on her phone and we got T-boned in a parking lot.” She hit her head on the window, the car was totaled and Mackenzie was out another month.
She said occasionally she’ll start stuttering and is sensitive at times to bright lights.
But she plays all out.
“I used to be super scared. I was scared to dive for a really long time. I was more cautious, for sure.”
Commitment News: Congrats to Class of 2019 MB/OPP Mackenzie Jensen from Village Christian HS on her commitment to Concordia University, Irvine!!! @DNPrepSports @PrepVolleyball @VCSAthletics @cuieagles pic.twitter.com/7Chrcf3U2O
— SG Elite VBC (@SGEliteVB) May 3, 2018