Ailing Yori driven to coach Nebraska's opener
Basketball season is coming, and it's just what the doctor ordered for Nebraska coach Connie Yori.
Yori was hospitalized most of September following complications from knee surgery.
A staph infection and blood clot in the knee caused so much pain that she passed out and had to be rushed to the hospital by ambulance. For a while, she required morphine just so she could get up and negotiate the few feet to the bathroom.
She spends hours meeting doctors and going through physical therapy, and she needs a wheelchair and crutches to get around. She rides a motor scooter around the court on days she goes to practice.
Like the coach she is, the 48-year-old Yori is challenging herself to get better.
''The last 20 years I hadn't missed a full day of work because of illness so this is really strange for me,'' she said. ''The fact the season is coming up so quickly gives me more motivation.''
Yori is entering her 10th season at Nebraska. She was the 2010 national coach of the year after leading the Huskers to 30 straight wins, the Big 12 regular-season title and the NCAA Sweet 16.
Last season, the Huskers lost the core of their record-setting team and finished 13-18 overall and in last place in the Big 12.
The Huskers move the Big Ten this season.
Yori stopped by the Huskers' first practice, on Oct. 3, for an hour or so. She addressed the team briefly, exchanged hugs and watched drills. While she convalesces, seventh-year associate head coach Sunny Smallwood is in charge.
''I never thought I'd say I missed being yelled at,'' guard Kaitlyn Burke said. ''She really has missed a lot of practice. We all love her and care about her so much that right now we just want her to be 100 percent healthy and back to the coach Yori that we all know and love.''
Yori injured her left knee during her playing days at Creighton in the early 1980s and hadn't had surgery on it since 1985. She tweaked the knee last spring and decided to put off surgery until after the Huskers returned from an 11-day European tour.
She seemed to be recovering well from the Aug. 19 operation, but pain set in Aug 31 and by Labor Day she was in the hospital for treatment of a staph infection. She was released a week later but was back four days later after the pain became so excruciating that she passed out.
Doctors discovered a blood clot, and she spent two weeks in the hospital before going home Sept. 30.
Staph infections and blood clots can be fatal, but Yori said she was assured her life was never in jeopardy because the infection and clot didn't spread beyond her knee.
Miserable as she was, she gained perspective at the rehab hospital.
''I'm looking around and say I can't feel sorry for myself,'' she said. ''Look at all these people who have lost limbs or had serious car accidents who are trying to rehab and going through a heck of a lot worse things than I am. The main thing for me is I have to plug away.''
Yori remains on pain medication, and she tires easily. It's uncomfortable for her to sit in the same position for long, and she can only lay on her back.
She said her husband, Kirk Helms, has been nothing less than an angel for the care and support he's provided. She said she's frustrated she isn't able to be more active with her 7-year-old son, Lukas.
''Someone told me 1 out of 10,000 people get staph infection after a knee surgery like this,'' Yori said. ''I guess I didn't roll the dice right. Most people think you'll just get back, that you're OK. It's crazy how painful it was. I've had a baby, and it's 20 times more painful than childbirth.''
Yori has to achieve a certain amount of flexibility in her knee before she's able to get rid of her wheelchair and crutches and walk under her own power.
''I'm a long way from that,'' she said. ''If the season wasn't coming up, I might not be in such a hurry to get it done. It does motivate you.''
Smallwood said she visited Yori every three or four days in addition to emailing and texting her regularly.
''I was very worried about her because her pain levels were so high for so long,'' Smallwood said. ''You can't stand to watch anybody suffer like that. Connie is one of the toughest women I know.''
The Huskers play an exhibition against Division II Pittsburg State on Oct. 30 and the regular season opens Nov. 12 at home against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.
Yori, who was back at practice again Monday, plans to be there.
''Don't make this some sympathy story,'' she said. ''I really do believe I'm lucky I didn't have it worse. There are so many people, and children, who have to go through cancer and how hard is that on a child who doesn't understand what they're going through? I'm thankful that I'm going to get through this.''