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Head Games

Just four months after brain surgery, a Duke soccer player returns to the pitch

FIVE MONTHS agoChristie McDonald wouldn't have thought twice about launching herself headfirstat a corner kick. As a forward on Duke's soccer team, heading the ball was abig part of her job. But toward the end of her first year on campus--after aseason in which she was named to the freshman all-ACC team--McDonald beganexperiencing spells in which her right foot would convulse for up to 30 minutesat a time. In April she was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma, a tumor thatstarts in the canal connecting the brain to the inner ear.

Doctors told herthe tumor wasn't cancerous, but that wasn't reassuring. When McDonald was inmiddle school, one of her best friends died of a benign tumor. "I was inshock," McDonald says. "I teared up a little bit, but I tried to staycalm." A month later she underwent surgery to remove the 1.5-centimetertumor--but doctors also had to remove her auditory and balance nerves, leavingher without hearing in her left ear and unable to steady herself. McDonaldbegan rehabbing over the summer. As the nerves in her right ear begancompensating for the missing ones, she gradually regained her balance. She wasinitially nervous about taking headers because they made her dizzy, but she wasfully fit by the time the season started. McDonald has played in all 13 gamesfor the No. 21 Blue Devils, and she scored her first goal of the season onSept. 17 on, of all things, a header. "The goal was great," McDonaldsays, "but just to be playing was the biggest thing."



TOUGH ONE McDonald (in August) hasn't missed a game for the Blue Devils.