CINCINNATI (FOX19) - The life of a normal teenager is centered around family, friends, and sports. But, for a 16-year-old who has overcome a lung condition, the new normal is using her not so normal situation to inspire others.
Emily Acito, a varsity volleyball player at Mercy-McAuley High School, is a natural athlete.
Her talent puts her in every rotation for her club team and is the kind that could lead to a promising college career.
It’s hard to see the scars on her game.
The only one that does show is the scar on Emily’s neck.
“I never felt anything wrong," Emily explained. "Everything was perfectly fine and just one day at my aunt’s house I started coughing. I coughed up blood and I couldn’t stop.”
When she was just 14, just starting high school, Emily would undergo the first of three separate procedures.
“We were told that she had a 50/50 chance of survival and that we needed to prepare to say goodbye," Tony Acitu, Emily’s dad, recalled. "We were told that. Very scared. Very scared.”
Doctors diagnosed Emily with an abnormal right lung, which didn’t respond to the first two procedures.
The next and only solution her doctor decided would be to surgically remove her lung.
“The only thing I remember from actually being in the hospital is I heard my grandpa’s voice," recalled Emily. "But I saw, like, a tunnel and it was, like, a big thing of light and at the end of it was my grandpa. And, he said, ‘keep fighting, this is not over, go back, you’re not done.’”
Now out of surgery and starting her recovery, Emily needed one question answered.
“All we wanted was Emily to come home from the hospital," said Jenny Acito, Emily’s mom. "We didn’t care – we weren’t even thinking about volleyball, but I know one of the first questions I remember her asking me is, ‘can I play volleyball again?’”
After she was cleared by her doctors, Emily started the fight to get back on the court.
She trained with her father, with a coach, by herself and just months after losing a lung Emily won a spot on one of the area’s best club teams, Northern Kentucky Junior Volleyball (NKJV).
“She knows how close she came to not being able to play volleyball. And, I think, understanding that as a 16-year-old really sets a high drive for her," stated Jim DeLong, NKJV Volleyball Coach. "Her story makes her a fantastic kid and a fantastic volleyball player.”
Donning her new varsity jersey, the teenager given a 50/50 chance at surviving, is back playing the game she loves without limitations.
But it’s more than just being back on the court.
Emily is back to being a normal teenager living a normal life.
“Every time she goes out, I get a tear in my eye," Jenny, Emily’s mom, said. "When she makes a great play and I’m thinking in the back of my head, ‘wow, nobody in this whole facility has one lung, like her.’ And it makes me so proud she’s out there doing it.”
Emily did so much of this herself, but she didn’t do it alone.
The teammates who welcomed her back.
The doctors who saved her life.
The family who helped her recover.
All of them now celebrate her success.
“I’ve learned a lot from a 16-year-old girl and that is quite extraordinary for someone who’s been a coach for 29 years,” Emily’s dad, Tony, stated. “She’s inspired me. She’s inspired me to inspire others.”
“You don’t suffer without there being a reason for it," Emily explained. "I have to give back to share my story with people who come into the hospital and feel like they can’t do it. I was in your situation once and I’m as normal as anyone else.”
Emily’s next goal is to play college volleyball and study to become an ICU nurse.
So why an ICU nurse?
Emily says it’s how she wants to pay back the people who helped her.
Today, she’s healthy enough that she doesn’t need to see her doctor for regular check-ups anymore.