Track Athlete Kim Turko Leaps A Formidable Hurdle — Life-Threatening
May 7, 2004 --
Kimberlee M. Turko, who will receive a Master’s
of Education degree in kinesiology-motor learning from the University
of Virginia on May 16, is excited
about walking down the Lawn to receive her diploma – and this time, remembering
the experience. When she walked down the Lawn to receive her bachelor’s
degree in 2001, she had just gotten out of the hospital after being in a coma
for four days, and she has no memory of the occasion. In the three years between
then and now, this track-and-field athlete who ran hurdles faced and cleared
the most difficult hurdle of all — getting her life back.
New Jersey native, Turko didn’t know she had a rare
form of encephalitis that could have been fatal. She had
been feeling tired at the end of the 2000-2001
school year, and somehow made it through exams despite a 104-degree fever.
Her mother came to take her home for a week of rest before
graduation. They were
on the New Jersey turnpike when Turko suffered a grand mal seizure. It took
doctors three days of testing to determine what was wrong.
not only made it to Final Exercises, but also resumed her
medical recommendation. She had already been accepted into the Curry School
of Education at U.Va. and was determined to continue her plans although she
infects the brain tissue, and in 95 percent of cases, results
in blindness, deafness or paralysis. The
form that struck Turko left her
long-term memory. She basically had to relearn everything — how to
walk and talk, how to write and how to comprehend reading.
Turko woke up from the coma, she didn’t know her own
know her family and friends, and had no idea what had happened. After
about a day, she recognized her family, she said. She heard
her mother telling
she wouldn’t be able to go to graduation, and even though she didn’t
quite know what that meant, she knew it was important and started to
cry. Her mom and grandparents accompanied her to the momentous occasion.
kept quiet as much as possible, because she didn’t want people
to know that she didn’t remember them.
fact, she didn’t
really want to tell people what happened and have them treat her differently,
she said. Only gradually has she become more comfortable
talking about it as she has learned to live with the residual effects.
Without long-term memory, it takes a lot longer for her to retain new
her short-term memory, she has to review material repeatedly “to
get things to stick.” She has chronic mononucleosis and the beginnings
of chronic fatigue syndrome, which make her tire easily.
“By 8 p.m., I’m kaput. I have to take a nap or just go to bed until
I can work again the next day,” she said.
Her mother continues to inspire and help her when she’s having a rough
day. “She’s the first one I’d call when I was feeling lost,” Turko
more laid back now — so they tell me — than before
the storm, as we call it.”
illness and its symptoms don’t seem
to have slowed her down that much.
took the first graduate course during the summer to re-orient
herself and discovered she couldn’t
write. She bought a first-grade penmanship book to practice.
That first fall semester, she did confide somewhat in education
professor Linda Bunker, whose class she was taking in Advanced
Bunker, who has persevered in her career despite having cancer,
had a special understanding.
“I don’t think anyone got as much out of the class as I did,” said
is quite an inspiration,” Bunker said. For Turko, the
feeling is mutual. She said she often keeps Bunker in mind,
and it helps her put things
a year left on her track scholarship (due to an injury her
third undergraduate year), Turko also regained her
spot on the
hard to relearn
her coordination. She came in third in the ACC’s
All-Conference Invitational in the 60-meter hurdles.
second year of graduate school, Turko took a break
from classes, but to stay involved, she got a part-time
for U.Va.’s track
and field team, which she’ll be doing until this
season finishes at the end of the month or mid-June.
She’ll finish the program with a 3.8 grade-point
average and has applied for teaching and coaching jobs
for the fall.
hasn’t told the team much
about what happened. Even without knowing why, they
help keep her going, she said, and she’d rather
give them all the energy and enthusiasm she can muster.
Anne Bromley, (434) 924-6861