At 16 years outdated, she’s dropping her fingernails.
The layers are flaking away, a aspect impact of her treatment. It’s onerous for Fountain Valley Excessive junior Dakota Lam to grip a pencil, not to mention a golf membership. Her fingers pulse after sufficient swings, after which the blood comes, spurting from the uncooked pores and skin beneath the nails.
It at all times scares her father, Nghia. He takes his daughter residence after apply to soak her arms in saltwater, arms he held as she lay in her hospital mattress two years in the past, clinging to life after a stroke. Bleeding triggers reminiscences of the mysterious situation that sunk her platelet ranges.
What if it comes again?
“Nobody knows, really,” Nghia Lam mentioned. “It’s in God’s hands, almost.”
Few perceive, actually, what Dakota has gone by means of: reminiscence loss, speech deficiency, complications that really feel like needles stabbing her mind. However she shrugs it off, hiding all of it behind a happy-to-be-here smile.
Golf can convey Lam ache, but it surely’s additionally her glad place, a gift freed from fear over an unsure future. Gripes, complaints, negativity she feels gained’t change her state of affairs.
“I try to be as optimistic as I can about it,” Lam mentioned. “Try to make the best of what I have.”
Nghia, an engineer and former golfer, figured if he bought his daughter hooked on golf, she’d spend extra time with him.
So ever since she was 7, they’d go to the vary for a pair hours every single day after faculty, Lam rising to like the game.
She by no means performed in beginner competitions whereas honing a swing that might drive a ball greater than 200 yards since she was younger. Lam was excited to hitch the crew at Fountain Valley, a stable program that completed a shot shy of successful a league title final yr.
“She just has a very long, fluid golf swing,” Fountain Valley coach Carter Keyser mentioned.
However in August 2020, earlier than her freshman yr, Lam observed spots popping up on her pores and skin, referred to as petechiae. Docs decided her platelet ranges, cells that assist blood clot, had been notably low. Numerous cures didn’t work, and Lam went into the hospital for per week in late September, fatigued to the purpose she barely might placed on her pants.
“I told her, ‘In life, you’re going to fall down many times — it’s how you get up. ‘Just … don’t die.”
— Nghia Lam, Dakota’s father
After her blood strain out of the blue went haywire, a scan revealed she had an quantity of blood in her mind the scale of “four golf balls,” Nghia mentioned.
“She came this close,” her father mentioned, holding his index and thumb fingers millimeters aside.
They don’t speak concerning the risk all of it might occur once more.
That fall, Lam was intubated for 4 days. As a physician informed her father she’d have to discover ways to stroll once more, she flashed him a thumbs-up.
To Nghia’s shock, she began strolling once more 4 days later.
“I told her, ‘In life, you’re going to fall down many times — it’s how you get up,’” Nghia mentioned, pausing.
“‘Just … don’t die,’” he sobbed.
Just a few months after the stroke, Keyser referred to as up Lam to hit in her first apply at Fountain Valley when blood began gushing out of her nostril, her dad remembered, coating her sweater.
“It was kind of a scare for everybody,” Lam mentioned.
However Lam was decided to play. She took off the sweater and continued.
“She doesn’t give up,” her father mentioned. “She’ll keep coming, bleeding or not bleeding.”
College was a problem — typically she’d neglect every part she studied the evening earlier than, her short-term reminiscence nonetheless recovering. However she had goals to play golf in school and anticipated the most effective from herself.
“I felt like I just started back to square one again,” Lam mentioned.
Shortly into her freshman yr, Lam suffered a wrist damage making an attempt too onerous to compensate for weak point in her proper aspect. After rehab, her first match was “terrible,” she remembered. Practices weren’t a lot simpler. She’d grasp the membership and panicked ideas would set in.
“Everyone has their own disadvantages, and this is mine. Just gotta deal with it, and keep going.”
— Dakota Lam
I have to make a shot. I have to get this chip.
Her arms began shaking, feeling like they’d fall off, she mentioned.
“Sometimes, I worry about her,” teammate Kendyl Thitathan mentioned, “because she’s so hard on herself.”
Via ups and downs, complications and relaxation days, Lam labored to get again on the course. Her scores step by step improved and he or she took a big step by ending a shot in need of a gold medal with a one-over-par efficiency towards Huntington Seashore final yr.
“Just to come back out here and play decently, I think, is kind of an accomplishment for me,” Lam mentioned.
In February, after she bought her COVID-19 booster, Lam’s signs returned.
She spent a lot of the spring within the hospital, her platelet ranges in freefall once more. Docs gave her Rituxan, which is often used to deal with most cancers.
“You live day to day,” Nghia mentioned.
She stabilized in June and is in remission. However docs don’t know whether or not the issue is actually gone, her father mentioned.
“She thinks she gets over it just like that, you know?” Nghia mentioned. “I don’t want to tell her anything other than that.”
Via 4 matches this season, she’s averaged the second-lowest nine-hole rating on a crew that has state championship aspirations.
“She’s just super consistent … she’s always in the top five, always,” Keyser mentioned.
At some point just lately, she recounted to her father each shot she hit — an encouraging signal, Nghia mentioned, that she is likely to be wholesome sufficient to play in school. However her journey isn’t over.
Whereas training two weeks in the past, Thitathan mentioned, Lam was making an attempt to hit out of a bunker and thumped her membership towards the sand, the vibration triggering ache in her wrist. She winced, and her pal urged her to name for assist.
Nope. Lam brushed it off, Thitathan mentioned, and saved taking part in.
“Everyone has their own disadvantages, and this is mine,” Lam mentioned. “Just gotta deal with it and keep going.”