For Ocoee High School junior and girls varsity lacrosse defense player Rayne City, 17, life abruptly took an 180-degree turn one day last month.
She was an active member of the community — a lacrosse player, treasurer of the Student Government Association, a member of the Knights marching band and a part-time employee at DG Doughnuts. Rayne now struggles to walk from her room to the sofa located in her living room.
“I feel a little better,” she said. “I’ve passed out twice since last week, and I’m just tired and in a lot of pain. It’s just weird, because I am used to being up and running and doing all these things, so not being able to walk much because I get tired, it’s strange. I just feel sore, like I’ve been running a lot.”
On Saturday, Feb. 18, Rayne began having symptoms she had never experienced before. The first one of these was numbness in her hands.
“She came to me saying she had numb hands,” her mom, Deidra City, said. “I thought she was overtired, so I told her to go lay down and go to sleep.”
However, rest didn’t seem to help Rayne at all. The next day, she woke up with numb hands and numbness in her face.
“She has anxiety, so I thought her anxiety was a little elevated,” Deidra City said. “But Monday, she had numb hands, a numb face and numb legs. She went to school, she did all her activities, she called me from school telling me she didn’t feel good and that she had a bad headache, so I told her to drink a Gatorade — maybe her electrolytes were off. She came home and went straight to bed.”
Things didn’t improve Tuesday — in fact, they got worse — as Rayne was not able to feel the floor underneath her, began stumbling while walking at school and was even having a hard time holding her pencil. When she came home, her mom got in touch with her pediatrician — who told her to call 911.
On Tuesday, Feb. 21, Rayne City was admitted to AdventHealth for Children in Orlando, where she spent a total of eight days — and in all those days, after several different tests, the doctors were not able to provide the family with a diagnosis. While at the hospital, Rayne lost her speech and her vision became blurry.
“The said they didn’t know what was wrong with her, so I took her to the pediatrician … who asked us to go get a second opinion at (UF Health Shands Hospital) in Gainesville,” Deidra City said. “We stayed there for three days (and) they still don’t know what’s wrong with her, but they kind of narrowed it down a little bit.”
After 11 days between the two hospitals; three MRIs of the brain; two MRIs of the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spines; two lumbar punctures; necessary bloodwork; a CT scan; chest X-rays; an electromyography; and a nerve conduction velocity test, the Citys came home from Gainesville with a narrowed down number of potential causes for Rayne’s condition.
The first possible cause may be that Rayne could have caught some sort of cold virus that attacked her body cells.
“(The doctors) said sometimes viruses can do this, (but) I’ve never heard of this,” Deidra City said. “I don’t remember her being sick. … They said she could’ve had (cold) symptoms and not realize it.”
In 2019, Rayne was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation of the brain, a condition where the brain tissue extends into the spinal canal.
“Her tonsil plate and her brain sit in the base of her neck, lower than it should be,” Deidra City said. “So her brain actually sits on her spinal cord. She’s had it probably since birth. … So, (the doctors) said that because hers is past five millimeters, that could be causing some of the neurological changes in the legs: the walking, the weakness, the numbness. So, we have a follow up outpatient (visit scheduled) with a neurosurgeon to go over some studies and exams.”
The mother and daughter are scheduled to pay another visit to the pediatrician on Tuesday, March 21, and will be back to Shands on Friday, April 7.
“I’ve been trying to double up the appointments,” Deidra City said. “If she has to see two doctors, we can make one trip.”
Despite not having a diagnosis, Rayne and her mother feel hopeful that she will soon go back to normal. In fact, she is scheduled to start physical therapy soon at AdventHealth Sports Med & Rehab in Apopka.
“It’s really heartbreaking to see her go from an outgoing person always playing sports and just always doing stuff to (a point where she) can’t even walk, it’s heartbreaking,” said Jennifer Stein, Deidra City’s best friend and Rayne’s second mother.
The Citys have always been residents of Ocoee. Deidra City — a single mother — has lived her entire life there, and her two children, Rayne and Anthony, have too.
“Our world and our community have been so supportive,” Deidra City said. “Our inner community in Ocoee in general, her friends. … We’ve had her school teachers come to the house and bring her balloons and flowers.”
Despite this being her first year as a lacrosse player at Ocoee High School, Rayne’s lacrosse teammates have been playing their 2022-23 season in honor of No. 22 — her jersey number.
“I played the first game and that following Monday was my last normal day on the team,” she said. “I probably won’t be back to lacrosse this year.”
As a single mother, Deidra City usually works three jobs — and 80 hours a week — to be able to provide for her two children and four cats. However, with Rayne needing round-the-clock care, she was only able to keep one job: the one that allows her to work from home.
“I’m only working 40 hours a week,” she said. “So, that’s a whole paycheck missing, and without Rayne’s, that’s another paycheck.”
Despite not being worried about medical expenses because of a good insurance coverage, the family is worried about the daily expenses such as mortgage, food and anything house related. However, after getting home from the hospital, the Citys already received the medical bill: $132,000.
“I don’t know what my portion will be, but that was the medical bill (so far),” Deidra City said.
Rayne’s boyfriend, Jackson Nielson, has been a huge help to the family as he has contributed to her care since she was admitted at the hospital.
“He’s been really helpful,” Rayne said. “He stayed a few nights at the hospital with us. … He’s helped me a lot and my mom a lot.”
“I was able to take some breaks because he wanted to learn how to get her up and take care of her,” Deidra City said.
Even Oliver, one of the family cats, has been of support to Rayne during these hard days.
“He’s an emotional support animal,” Deidra City said. “When she’s sick, he sits outside her bedroom door and meows. He follows her from room to room and when she lets him in the room … he sleeps on her bed.”
Rayne was preparing to take her SAT and was an active organizer of the Mr. and Miss Ocoee Pageant.
“I missed the SAT, I missed the pageant, I missed probably six lacrosse games by now,” she said. “I am a very committed person … and it’s very disappointing because I go to every practice, I make sure I am having a good attitude while I’m there just trying to make the most our of it, and, now, I’ve missed all of it.”
Hundreds of people Rayne and her family have encountered in their life have contributed to helping making this situation a little easier.
“I don’t want her to get depressed over it,” Deidra City said. “She’s going back to normal; it’s just going to take time.”
Staff writer Andrea Mujica covers sports, news and features. She holds both a bachelor's degree in journalism and an MBA from the University of Central Florida. When she’s not on the sidelines, you can find Andrea coaching rowers at the Orlando Area Rowing Society in Windermere.