Test Of Faith For Ennis Family
Shane Ennis knew something was wrong.
While setting up a hunting blind in preparation for the fall 2018 season, the recent Mountaineer graduate and baseball alumnus felt a coughing spasm coming on. As he did, he also felt something else – the coppery taste of blood.
“I don’t stress about a lot of things, so I didn’t freak out,” the Romney, West Virginia native said. “I called my Dad to let him know, and see what I should do.”
Ennis’ calm reaction to this event was just a reflection of his days as a pitcher for the Mountaineer baseball team, and his life as an athlete. During a four-year career at WVU, he endured his share of ups and downs, finishing with a 6-6 record and three saves in 60 appearances, 30 of which came in his senior season of 2018. Facing adversity is second nature to pitchers, who are accustomed to failure at times. That, combined with his laid-back nature, kept him from worrying too much. If he knew what was in store for him, that outlook might have been severely shaken.
Shane, accompanied by his wife Morgan, first went to an urgent care facility nearby. Blood tests and examinations at that level revealed no problems, and Shane, who didn’t have any other symptoms, thought it might have been just a one-off issue. Until, that is, it happened again.
About three weeks after the initial event, he was shoveling snow on a cold Nov. 15, and it happened again. As he had been working in construction since his spring graduation from WVU, he didn’t think it was anything related to his overall physical condition, which was excellent. This time, the young couple took the next step of going to Hampshire Memorial Hospital for a more complete workup
“I had to drag him to the hospital,” Morgan said.
There, X-Rays and a CAT scan of Shane’s throat showed no abnormalities, but the recurrence of the bleeding was enough to demand more work. A subsequent trip to an ear, nose and throat specialist revealed lesions on his esophagus – large enough to block a scope from reaching its normal depth.
Those lesions turned out to be GERD – gastrointestinal esophageal disease – which were thought to be causing Shane’s problem. He was prescribed medication – “I have to take it for the rest of my life” – but he and Morgan both left with the thought that the problem had finally been identified. Like a bad call that extends an inning in baseball, though, this episode led to more.
Shane continued to cough up blood, and despite advice that the medication needed time to take effect, he and Morgan were beginning to suspect that the health professionals they had seen to date weren’t taking him seriously.
“They saw this healthy athlete who didn’t have any other symptoms,” Morgan said. “I would take pictures to make sure they believed us.”
After another scary episode on Jan. 12, they got a referral to Winchester Medical Center in Virginia, which found what they termed “a nodule” in Shane’s right lung. That discovery ramped up Shane’s medical care and treatment very quickly.
“We got a pulmonologist referral to Dr. Santa D’Alessio, who was fantastic,” Morgan said. “She called the surgeon she works with, Dr. Sandeep Khandhar, and they said Shane needed surgery sooner rather than later. He said it was more serious that if it was cancer, and they got Shane in for surgery on Jan. 21.”
Shane had developed a 10-centimeter growth on his lung as a result of histoplasmosis, which had also spread to some of his lymph nodes.
“It’s very common in the Ohio River Valley and Midwest. It comes from dust in the air, and bird and bat droppings,” Shane explained. “It’s a fungus. I had played up in attics, and my job I was up on roofs all the time, so I was exposed to it. A lot of people don’t know they have it, but with mine I also had a bacterial infection that took my immune system down. The doctors called it a perfect storm.”
Finally, things seemed to be going the Ennis’ way. Although he had been diagnosed with three separate issues, it seemed like he was finally on a treatment path that would lead to recovery. It was, though, a new experience for Shane.
“This was the first time I was ever put to sleep or in the hospital,” Shane said. “I never got sick before this. That first surgery went well, and they didn’t even keep me overnight. I was up and walking around 30 minutes afterward.”
Shane and Morgan departed for home, in time to celebrate their son Ripken’s second birthday on Jan. 23. But once again, like a batter swinging at an 0-2 curve ball in the dirt and golfing it over the fence, a lightning bolt hit again.
“On Jan. 28 I felt achy like I was catching a cold,” Shane detailed. “Sunday we went to church, and coming home that evening it felt like someone grabbed my lung and squeezed as hard as they could . It was hard to breathe, and I had to pull over. It felt like a stomach cramp. I walked around in my basement for about two hours and took a very strong painkiller that did not help at all.
“An X-Ray showed my lung was collapsed by fluid around it. The antibiotics had knocked down the infection but did not totally knock it out. None of the medicines helped, so we went back to Winchester for another CAT scan. They put a drain in, and that didn’t clear it out. The infection was so bad that another surgery was scheduled to cut it out and drain it.”
“That was a three-hour surgery,” Morgan picked up. “The doctor told us they took out three buckets full of infection and fluid. They were showing it to everyone coming in. He had two different forms of strep, and he didn’t even have a fever from it. It was unbelievable.”
Unlike the first surgery, this one had more serious ramifications. First, the incursion of the infection resulted in Shane losing using of about half of his right lung. Scar tissue, and damage from the infection, left it unable to process air in the normal manner.
Second, and topping the scare list, was a reaction to the medication prescribed to treat the fungal illness. Shane was dosed with a drug called amphotericin to treat the histoplasmosis, and his body reacted negatively to it.
“I started shivering and I couldn’t get warm,” Shane recalled. “I was vibrating. Morgan tried to hold my feet down and couldn’t control it.”
At that point, Shane fell into an unconscious state, and Morgan picks up the story.
“He started seizing, and it was so scary. A nurse came in and hit the code blue button, and in an instant it felt like a million people were in his room. He was in tachycardia, where his heartbeat was out of rhythm, and a crisis team came in. They worked for two hours before they got him back.”
In a classic case of the cure sometimes being worse than the disease, the amphotericin set off a reaction that was just as bad as the infection. To make matters worse, an anti-seizure drug to combat the effects of the amphotericin is available, but the hospital did not have it close at hand. While they were scrambling to find it, Shane continued bouncing back into tachycardia, with the result that his oxygen saturation level was down to about 60%.
“I was just really praying at that point,” Morgan recounted, the fear of a young wife and mother still evident in her voice months later.
Finally, the counteracting drug was administered, and Shane was stabilized. After a couple days of recovery, it was decided to try the amphotericin again – this time with the antidote ready – as it was the best option available to treat the histoplasmosis. Again, the seizures showed signs of starting, and he was again dosed with the counteracting drug, which ended the amphotericin regimen. Another anti-fungal medication was finally found that didn’t have the negative side effects, and Shane, after another week-long stay in the hospital, was finally on the road to recovery. He’s been back to work for about six weeks now, but with a different outlook on life, and what support and faith mean to him and his young family.
“I have always had support from my friends and family,” he recounted. “But the community, WVU baseball, the Mountaineer family, everything they did for us was unbelievable. Writing comments to us, sending us cards and calling. And of course, there was lots of prayer.”
Morgan, who shares Shane’s strong faith, expanded on that note.
“When you go through stuff like this you have to thank God. I truly believe He worked a miracle. You have to think about it, take time with your family. Shane was an extremely healthy athletic 23-year old and this thing could have killed him.
“The Mountaineer family was so amazing,” she continued. “I had so many people message and text me. They would say I’m a fan of Mountaineer baseball, and I saw this on your Facebook page. I am praying for you. There was Coach Mazey, Shane Lyons, Coach Sabins, all of his former coaches and teammates, and even high school players he had played against. And all of our friends and family, of course.”
While Shane has epitomized the toughness that epitomizes West Virginians – he’s back to work now – he and Morgan both note that the experience has affected him. Unsurprisingly, it was something that involved his family, not the hardships he had to endure.
“The hardest part for Shane was FaceTiming Ripken in the hospital,” Morgan recounted. “The saddest thing for me was that Shane had a PIC line in and couldn’t pick Ripken up for a long time. “We tried to shield Ripken some, but he’s a curious two- year old.”
“It was awesome the first time I was able to pick him up with my left arm,” Shane added.
Boosts such as that helped them through the crisis, along with their core beliefs.
“Part of it is the athlete mentality,” Shane recounted. “Just pushing against someone telling you what you cant do. You want to test yourself. It’s a mindset. Walking around before second surgery, I am thinking, ‘I can get through this.’”
“It’s definitely been faith too,” Morgan chimed in, who perhaps had the even more difficult test of watching and supporting while knowing there was nothing she could do directly to fix the problems. “It wouldn’t be anything without God.”
Shane relates a final story and thought that serves best to sum up the way he and Morgan got through the most severe test of their young lives.
“When you have a PIC line in, people wonder, ‘What happened to that guy?’ A guy in line asked me about it, and I tried to explain it.
“If you throw a strike and the umpire calls it a ball, or they hit it, you can’t control that. It’s out of your hands. That’s what I tell Morgan, I try not stress about it. I don’t want anyone to see me all droopy, all sad and boohoo about myself. God is the one that is getting me through this., and maybe my experience can help someone else get through something facing them.”