'I couldn't walk:' Macon softball player overcomes disease to thrive on the mound
MACON, Ga. -- On the surface, Windsor Academy's Holly Phillips is one of the most dominant pitchers in the area. The three-year starter racked up an impressive record that includes three state championships.
"They were awesome because you expect maybe one at a school, but to get three back-to-back was pretty intense," Phillips says.
On the inside though, Phillips was suffering from a rare condition she had been diagnosed with at 12-years-old. It's called Chiari Malformations -- a structural defect in the cerebellum, which is the part of the brain that controls your muscle function and balance. Effects are neck pain, muscle weakness, headaches and vision problems.
"I started having headaches and I would be dizzy all the time," Phillips said. "I would go to the doctor about my headaches and they couldn't figure it out. I eventually had a MRI and my neurosurgeon he was telling me I was diagnosed with Chiari."
For the longest time, Phillips had her pain under control, playing through it no matter what. That changed on September 29, 2016.
"Went to school like it was a normal day -- I had a really bad headache and I don't remember playing the game," she said. "We got to the hospital and they were like, 'At least you played good.' And I said, 'I don't know what you're talking about. I don't remember anything about the game or what happened.' They were like, 'The game,' and I was like 'What game?'
"I don't really remember what happened. I just know I was in pain and I was at the hospital."
From there, Phillips' condition worsened and she eventually couldn't walk.
"My dad, when I was first in the hospital, he told me when I couldn't walk 'I think you're done with softball,'" she said. "I told him I'm not, but thanks. I would spend three hours a night just learning how to walk and learning how to move my body the right way. It was insane just trying to teach myself that. It just started to work its way back to where I could play."
After four days of tests, Phillips found out she had fluid backing up in a cavity on her spinal cord. Her doctor ordered surgery for the next week, but there was just one problem:
"He told me that next week I needed surgery, but I asked him if we can push it off a little bit for state playoffs," Phillips said. "He was like, 'I reckon -- as long as you can handle the pain.' I was like, 'I'll be good, I promise.'"
Just six days before the surgery, Phillips suited up for the knights in the state tournament, leading them to another championship.
"Of course I was in pain, but I was focused on the games," she said. "I'm so used to headaches -- I've had them my whole life. So I was just focused on the games. We just won state a third time in a row. That's insane."
After winning the title, Phillips had a successful operation and has never been better. The pain and the frequency have gone down.
"Before I would have them everyday," she says. "Now I only have them once a week -- twice a week maybe. I can handle them. The pain is nowhere near as bad."
Just a few months ago, Phillips signed her name on the dotted line to play softball at Georgia State in spring 2019.
"I think it's natural," she said. "I kind of learned to deal with pain and mental toughness because Chiari has taught me that. You don't have a choice -- you have to deal with it."