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Frazier basketball player beats the odds

| Thursday, Dec. 26, 2013, 10:33 p.m.
Frazier's Riley Vargo overcame a severe health issue at birth and is now playing for the Frazier girls basketball team.
Lori Padilla | For the Daily Courier
Frazier's Riley Vargo overcame a severe health issue at birth and is now playing for the Frazier girls basketball team.

Every time Riley Vargo steps onto a basketball court, her parents can't help but smile.

The Frazier senior guard will likely never lead the team in scoring or hit a game-winning shot, but Corinne and Rock Vargo learned long ago to look beyond the statistics.

Riley Vargo arrived into the world prematurely, born two months early. Three days after her birth, she began having seizures, and a CT scan revealed the newborn had developed intraventricular hemorrhaging (IVH).

The condition results in bleeding in and around the brain's ventricles, which in turn places pressure on the brain's surrounding nerve cells. Depending on the amount of bleeding, IVH is categorized into four grades. Grades 1 and 2 are the most common, while grades 3 and 4 are the most serious.

Vargo was diagnosed with a grade 3 hemorrhage on the right side of her brain, and grade 4 on the left.

The condition is treated with symptom control, since there's no proven effective method to stop the bleeding. Blood transfusions are an option, as is the placing of a shunt to relieve pressure from the buildup of fluid.

An infant's prognosis with IVH usually depends on the amount of bleeding and subsequent swelling of the brain. Grades 3 and 4 often lead to developmental delays and problems controlling bodily movements, and current statistics show that one in five newborns with severe bleeding may die.

Vargo spent two weeks in the intensive care unit and, after being sent home, was seen daily by a visiting nurse. Because of muscle rigidity, the visiting nurse used a brushing technique on the insides of Riley's arms and legs. This helped nerve stimulation and eventually eased up the tightness.

Doctors were frank in their discussions with Corinne and Rock Vargo, and told them if Riley didn't sit up without support by the age of 15 months, she wouldn't walk.

“Well, she sat up on her own at 12 months,” Corinne Vargo said. “From there, she just took off.”

Riley was behind in her physical development by 2 months, but was ahead in other areas. She began talking at 9 months and, a month later, stopped taking a bottle.

“In those regards, she was ahead of her brother,” Corinne Vargo said.

Riley's older brother, Rocco, would go on to become a three-sport star at Frazier, and now is a linebacker at Washington & Jefferson.

The two siblings were born 20 months apart, and they forged a strong bond growing up. Corinne said Riley adored her older brother, and she believes this was one of the reasons for her developmental advancements.

“They had and still have a wonderful relationship,” she said. “Rocco made her do a lot of things. She followed him around and she watched him and he would help her.”

Vargo had to go to physical therapy for years, and she also had to wear a splint on her right leg. She began playing basketball in middle school, and has been a member of the Lady Commodores' squad the past four years.

Most of Vargo's game action has come during JV games, but her impact has been felt by the varsity squad as well.

“I say she's like sunshine,” Frazier coach Shara Zupanc said. “No matter what is happening with us, there's no bad situation. She's either saying something encouraging or cracking a joke. You can't be in too bad of a mood when you're around her. She really doesn't get a lot of playing time, but she's happy to be a part of the team and contribute in any way she can. She's so incredible in that way, and that's pretty rare.”

She also plays softball in a slow-pitch summer league in Perryopolis. Her attitude on the softball diamond mimics her mentality on the basketball court.

“I like to make everyone happy,” Riley Vargo said. “That makes me happy, and I love to smile.”

The holiday season has always been a special time for the Vargos, and this year will be no different.

For Riley, it will mean she'll get to spend time with someone special.

“Rocco and I have always been close, and we still are,” she said. “It was very, very tough for me went he went away to college. It was a tough time for me. I had issues with school, with my parents and with basketball. Things have gotten a lot better. He's not just a brother, but he's also just like my best friend.”

Dave Stofcheck is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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