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Close call for Kyrstin Lekki After offseason illness, she's back to help Falcons battle in tough NFL

Niagara-Wheatfield junior Kyrstin Lekki already has her favorite moment of this softball season. It was when she received some good news -- but it wasn't on the field or in practice, and it wasn't from a coach, teammate or umpire.

It was from a neurosurgeon. A doctor at Women and Children's Hospital told Lekki that she would be able to play softball this season.

"Thank God for that lady that said I could play -- that was awesome," Lekki said. "I walked in there and they could have told me anything, that I couldn't play for six months, that I can't play for a year. Nobody had told me anything until then. It just put the topping on everything."

"Everything" consisted of a mystery illness, lots of tests, and an anxious hospital visit not knowing when she'd be back on her feet, much less back at shortstop for the Falcons.

In early February, Lekki missed two weeks of school and had her basketball season end early due to something that seemed like the flu, except, as she said, "no one has the flu for two weeks." A long weekend spent at Women and Children's Hospital included a CAT scan and lots of questions. Her condition was a mystery to doctors until she was finally diagnosed with a burst appendix.

"My appendix was the size of two pop cans, it was ridiculously big, and they were all baffled by it," Lekki said of the doctors. "Then they were wondering, 'how were you even walking around?' "

Doctors drained fluid from her body and said she would need surgery to have the appendix removed. But, the good news: Doctors said there was no health hazard in waiting to remove the appendix until after the season, and she would be cleared to play just in time for the first practice March 5.

"My sister is on the team, all my friends play, and we had a really good team last year -- it felt like I'd be letting people down," said Lekki, a junior who was a first-team Niagara Frontier League selection and an All-Western New York honorable mention. "Even though you know things are out of your control, that's how you feel."

Now she is back to 100 percent, ready to patrol shortstop with her cannon arm and great range and hit out of the cleanup spot for the Falcons. Niagara-Wheatfield is hoping to challenge perennial powers Kenmore West (13-1 last year) and North Tonawanda (12-2) in the tough Niagara Frontier League after improving from 8-6 in 2005 to 10-4 last year. Any doubts about Lekki's health got blasted out of the park last Thursday when she beat Lockport, 8-6, with a walk-off grand slam.

"Nothing shocks me any more with her," N-W coach Eric Belter said. "It's almost like you expect it now. She's got guts, and the team is feeding off of her."

The 5-foot-11 Lekki hit .321 with 20 RBIs and 26 hits and led her team in all extra-base hit categories (including three homers) as a sophomore. She's versatile enough that she played catcher for the Amherst Lightning Gold 16-and-under team, which won the Pony Nationals in Youngstown, Ohio, last summer.

"In terms of her physical ability, for someone her size to be as mobile as she is, she's a pretty special athlete," said third-year coach Belter. "And she has such a will to win. She'll do whatever it takes. She'll realize she might not be hitting the ball particularly hard some game, and she'll make a play defensively. Everyone else on the team feeds off her. She's a true leader."

And she has a little extra appreciation for being on that field.

"You go from playing basketball to a week-and-a-half later laying in a hospital bed . . . it was crazy," she said. "It just motivates you even more. You see how fast everything can stop right before your eyes."

e-mail: kmcshea@buffnews.com

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