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Mendota Swimmer Defies Odds, Survives Near Fatal Infection, and Accepts Division 1 Scholarship

McKenna Pasquale last week accepted a Division 1 swimming team scholarship after surviving a bout with a life-threatening lung infection. And she only started swimming—as in, just learned—four years ago.

So this is one of those stories that you're just not going to believe.

Part One, 2009: McKenna Pasquale is 13 years old. And Kenna, as her friends call her, decides that she wants to be on the swim team. 

The challenge: She doesn't know how to swim.

"She could splash around, but when she said she wanted to be on the swim team, we went to the library," said her mother, Barb Pasquale.

And together they checked out some videos on how to swim. And then taught her.

True story.

Part Two, 2010-2011: Kenna makes the Henry Sibley High School swim team—she's a natural athlete (it helps that her mother was also, once upon a time, her gymnastics coach), but Kenna's an even stronger swimmer.

Kenna seems able to do it all: the breast stroke, the back stroke, and several distance medleys. She's on track to landing a Division 1 or Big 10 swim scholarship, possibly on the East or West coast. In December, 2011, she joins Eden Prairie's AquaJets swim team club, to prepare her for the next level.

Then tragedy strikes—serious tragedy that nearly took her life.

Part Three: Dec. 2011-Jan. 2012. Kenna starts getting sick—difficulty breathing; temperatures between 104-106 degrees.

They suspect everything from Scarlet Fever to Mono, before doctors zero in: It's an Aspirated Bacterial Infection of her right lung, an infection so deadly that four younger children that same year died in Minneapolis from it. Her condition deteriorates so badly that the national CDC gives her access to an exclusive vault of antibiotics reserved for extreme emergencies.

Doctors prepare to remove Kenna's right lung.

"We had signed the last of the papers for the surgery," Barb recalled. "It had gotten really, really bad. They told us later they were preparing for the worst—they didn't think she would make it out."

She did make it, and kept her lung. And then some.

"They told me it really helped me that I had been in such good shape," Kenna recalled this week. "I had a lot of good things in my favor."

Part Four: Feb. 6, 2013—National Signing Day.

At a ceremony at Henry Sibley, Kenna formally accepts a full swimming scholarship to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Actually Kenna had committed to UND back in November, and in doing so became the only senior to do so—and the only swimmer in over a decade to get signed by a Division 1 school.

Her swim times now are just shy of Junior National times and she's already met most of her new team at a recent meet at the University of Minnesota.

Oh, and she also made All-Conference with Choir. And she's the manager of the Henry Sibley boys swimming team, too.

"You'll have to forgive me, but I could go on and on about how proud we are of her," gushed her mother Barb, one last time.

Well gosh: Can you blame her?

True story.

Jennifer Parker February 15, 2013 at 10:14 PM
A wonderful article about a student I remember fondly from my first grade classroom! I am so glad her health has been restored!

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