Ann Shikles looked around her room in the intensive care unit and saw coach Barry Ringel out of the corner of her eye. She motioned him over.
A day earlier, Shikles, a senior on the Phoenix Thunderbird girls’ basketball team, had been in a horrific automobile accident. Leaving campus after practice, she made a left turn out of the entrance at 17th Avenue and Thunderbird. A driver in a Ford Explorer ran a red light and T-boned her 2005 BMW, the impact so violent Shikles’ car slid 30 feet into a nearby crosswalk.
Shikles’ injuries included lacerations on her lungs, a fist-sized hole in her bladder and, most dangerously, a ruptured kidney. She fractured her jaw and collarbone, her pelvis in three spots and six ribs. As she was wheeled into the operating room at John C. Lincoln Hospital, Shikles’ father, Don, and mother, Cindi, could hear the surgeons speaking amongst themselves.
“They were talking about trying to save her because she had a kidney that was damaged and she was bleeding to death,” Don Shikles said.
Now awake, but in great pain, Shikles asked Ringel to come closer to the bed. The left side of her body was battered and broken and it was difficult for her talk because her jaw was wired shut.
“Hi, coach,” she whispered.
“What?” Ringel said.
“Hi, coach,” Shikles repeated.
Then she lifted her right arm and made a shooting motion with her hand.
“Look, coach,” she said. “I still got it.”
Returning to the starting lineup
Thunderbird will play Prescott Friday in a second-round game of the Division II state tourney basketball tournament. Shikles will start, as she has every game but one since returning from her injury. She’s averaging 9.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 38 percent from 3-point range.
Not that the numbers matter, of course.
“That night it wasn’t a question of whether she would come back and play. It was a matter of will she still be with us,” Ringel said. “I talked to the surgeon and he said, ‘We see a lot of people in similar situations who don’t make it alive to the hospital.’ But she had a lot going for her because she was 17, an athlete and in good shape.”
When Don and Cindi received the phone call telling them Ann had been in an accident, they didn’t speed the two miles to campus. They figured Ann had been in a fender-bender. But as they got within two blocks of the school they saw the emergency vehicles and police cars. The BMW was demolished and Ann was trapped inside.
“A mother’s worst nightmare,” Cindi said.
After paramedics got Ann loose and placed her on a stretcher, Cindi walked to her daughter and gently touched her.
“She told me she loved me,” Cindi said.
Don got into the front seat of the ambulance as his daughter was transported to the hospital. Soon, more than 60 family members, friends, teammates and coaches joined Don and Cindi in the waiting room. For nearly four hours, as Ann was being operated on, they prayed and hugged each other and prayed some more.
“It was a tough wait. There’s not much you can do,” Don said. “You’re pretty helpless.”
Finally, at about 12:30 a.m., a surgeon walked into the waiting room.
“He said they were able to save her,” Don said. “They seemed very happy they were able to do what they did in there.”
Ann would spend nine days in intensive care, another 10 days in the hospital and then a few more days in a rehabilitation center. She required five surgeries and it wasn’t until Nov. 5 that she was given the clearance to walk again.
Practice started that week.
No doubts Shikles would return to play
Ann never doubted she would play. She admits to having some “this sucks” moments but her determination was unbending. It didn’t matter that she had to drink her food through a straw because her jaw was broken or that she couldn’t exercise because of her fractured pelvis.
“Once they told me I was able to pretty much make a full recovery I was like, well, I have to make it back at some point,” she said.
She brought her athletic spirit and strength to her rehabilitation. The surgeon who repaired Ann’s fractured pelvis told her she’d be on crutches for a week and one crutch for a few days before she’d be able to walk. Four hours after leaving the surgeon’s office, Ann walked into basketball practice without her crutches.
“She was tremendous the whole way,” Don said. “A lot of things she had to deal with people don’t necessarily realize. While she was in the hospital she’d have to get turned every couple of hours which was extremely painful. She needed shots and blood work every couple of hours. A lot of that stuff went on continually for eight to nine days. But she was always upbeat and positive everything would work out.”
That attitude is a direct reflection of Ann’s faith. A reporter from the Thunderbird student paper asked Ann what her most prominent feeling was during her ordeal. She replied, “Happiness.”
“They didn’t understand that,” Ann said. “I told them, ‘I believe things happen for a reason.’ I’m glad it was me and I’m glad it happened to me because I had the faith to get through it when some people at my school, not that they’re not wonderful people, but they might not have gotten through it in the same way. … That’s what I carried with me.”
Thunderbird’s season began on Nov. 24 but Ann wasn’t cleared to play until Jan. 6, a road game against Prescott. She came off the bench with about three minutes left in the first quarter, and Ringel ran a play designed to get her a 3-point shot.
“When she hit the shot I turned to my assistant and said, ‘It’s like a storybook,'” Ringel said.
Not to Ann, it wasn’t.
“People ask me if that was anything extraordinary,” she said. “I want to say yes but it wasn’t. I just kind of felt like I was back to normal, back to where I was supposed to be.”
On the court. With her teammates. Treasuring her senior season.
“Whatever happens (in the playoffs) we’ll remember this year,” Ringel said. “It’s a happy result. She’s here and she’s with us, she’s made it and she’s just going to keep on going.”
Reach Bordow at scott.bordow @arizonarepublic.com. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow