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Looking Back

A Strong Recovery

October 20, 1998|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jamie Shine has come a long way from ground zero.

Look at her today on the volleyball court of St. Mary's College in Moraga, one would never know she had to learn to walk again after nearly dying from a rare form of meningitis during her junior year at El Modena High.

Look at her place in the university's basketball record book, one would never know she shot nothing but air balls from the free-throw line in summer league games before her senior year of high school.

"It was humiliating," she says, remembering she was the Century League's most valuable player the year before.

So Shine walks around campus as a two-sport starter, elected basketball and volleyball captain at St. Mary's with her eye on being a teacher. She's an object of admiration for nearly everyone she meets.

These are happy times for Shine, but she can't escape the memory of her battle with the most aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis, meningococcal meningitis.

Nor does she want to forget the memory of the contagious inflammation of the spinal cord and brain membranes that infected her body in April, 1993. It often attacks children and is usually fatal.

"I think about it every day," Shine, 22, said. "I think about what I went through, and each day, I want to make the best of it. And a lot of times I don't. I'll have bad days. I'll look back and think I wasted a day, but I refer back to when I was sick and think, 'I can't do that.'

"I'm constantly thinking about how I can best live my life and help other people best live theirs by being a positive influence, by staying positive. I would hope they could always look at me and I could have a smile on my face and that would brighten their day, or have some words of wisdom, or be there as a friend to help them get through difficult times or share in their good times."

Shine's mother, Brenda, is an instructor at Orange Coast College and refers to it as "an event that changed all of our lives." Jamie's father, Tom, is the offensive coordinator at Santa Ana College. Her brother, Casey, 24, is finishing at Nevada and coaches varsity receivers at Gardnerville (Nev.) Douglas. None of them take much for granted these days.

A few hours after Brenda found Jamie on the floor of their Orange home jaundiced and dehydrated, curled up in the fetal position, the television on mute because the sound ripped through "the worst headache times infinite," Jamie slipped into a coma.

When doctors administered a reaction test on Shine's Achilles' tendon that would elicit screams from nearly anyone with a pulse, Shine didn't respond. She had an emergency spinal tap and was near death.

She was in a coma for 30 hours and had her last rites administered. Today, she's a middle blocker and team captain on St. Mary's volleyball team, though the last time she played volleyball was in high school. It's her second sport at St. Mary's, having completed her two years of remaining basketball eligibility last season.

She went to St. Mary's after averaging 17.8 points and 11.1 rebounds as a sophomore at Orange Coast College, where she earned first-team All-Orange Empire Conference honors. She set single-season (372) and career (702) rebounding records in 1996 and was named OCC's female athlete of the year.

As a senior at St. Mary's she shot 70.8% from the free-throw line, 53.1% from the field (eighth best in school history), and averaged 7.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. She was considered one of the West Coast Conference's best defensive players.

She had been a three-sport star (including track) at El Modena during her junior year, when she contracted the illness.

Back then, she and Casey recounted the illness in a television commercial for an HMO that Brenda Shine credited with saving her daughter's life. The commercial ran three years, including during the 1994 Super Bowl, and Jamie occasionally still gets recognized working out at her gym in Orange.

"Ever since I was sick," she said, "I got this attachment to my name--'the girl who almost died,' or 'The FHP Girl.' "

One of her El Modena classmates, Jennifer Esser, was so taken by the medical attention Shine received that Esser studied nursing. She now works at the UCLA Medical Center.

Shine's current roommate, Leslie Quintal, tells everyone Shine's story.

It makes Shine uncomfortable.

"She's so funny. . . . I'm someone Leslie likes to show off," Shine said. "I don't like being someone people talk about [because] then they want to know everything, the whole story, and I end up telling it again and again."

Every time Shine tells it, it brings everything back into perspective: "Take each day as if it's your last, live it to the fullest, stay really positive."

She still struggles at times with her short-term memory while trying to grasp concepts, such as philosophies, so much so that she reluctantly admits it was one of the reasons she changed majors from liberal arts to health, physical education and recreation.

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