Chris Westover knew something was wrong when Taylor Alcozer asked to come out of a game last spring.
Alcozer, then in sixth grade, never asks to come out. Ever.
“She asked to come out in the most highly instrumental point in the game. It was the fourth quarter, maybe five or six minutes to go,” said Westover, the coach of the sixth-grade girls’ basketball team at Willowside Middle School.
“I needed her to play against their best player.”
But Alcozer raised her hand and asked to come out.
“That’s not Taylor,” he said. “Taylor wants in in those moments. She never asks to come out.”
But her head hurt too much. She had double vision that was so bad she was fumbling the ball.
“It felt like my head was almost going to explode,” she said.
On and off for weeks Alcozer had complained of headaches and occasionally double vision. But then they would go away. Her parents, Anna and Anthony Alcozer, weren’t quite sure what to make of it. Were they migraines? Was it hormonal?
But when Taylor pulled herself from that game, they knew it was something bigger than they had previously thought. Their daughter is a nut for the game, shooting hoops alone in the driveway, playing on two teams. There is no way she would take herself out if something was not seriously amiss.
So the Alcozers took their eldest child to the hospital. After a couple of tests, she was put in an ambulance and sent to a specialist in Santa Clara who found an arachnoid cyst on her brain. The fluid buildup on the left side of her head was so intense her brain had shifted inside her skull.
The doctors wanted to try a few solutions, but one thing was clear: She had to stop playing basketball immediately.
“Out of everything that she had to go through, the only thing that upset her was not knowing if she would play basketball,” Anna Alcozer said. “That’s what brought her to tears.”
The doctors put Alcozer on a heavy dose of steroids. Seriously fatigued by the drugs, she started going to school only half of the day.
And even though she was barred from playing, she always made time to come to practice and show up to games to support her teammates.
When doctors determined the steroids weren’t working, they scheduled brain surgery for June.
“Ultimately, as a parent, you want to protect your kids and in this situation there was nothing I could do,” Anthony Alcozer said. “It was humbling.”
Surgeons performed a craniotomy. They opened her skull, poked holes in the cyst, drained the fluid and sewed her back up. Alcozer now has titanium plates in her head. She also has a 10-inch, horseshoe-shaped scar that is now barely noticeable under her dark brown pony tail.
Surgeons were over the moon with how well it had gone. And they were overwhelmed by Taylor’s recuperative powers, Anthony Alcozer said.
Doped up on morphine and feeling nauseated, Taylor Alcozer moved almost immediately to a lesser painkiller to hasten her exit from the hospital.
Anna Alcozer said in a lot of ways, the recovery period this summer felt like having a toddler again. There were lots of naps and planning things around Taylor’s energy level. In addition to the surgery, her body was still recovering from the high doses of steroids that had caused her to gain about 20 pounds.