UC senior Gary Clark gives fan hope amid heartbreaking illness
CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) - UC senior forward Gary Clark is easily in the conversation for player of the year in the American conference.
He is the heartbeat of the Bearcats in his final season.
What about Gary off the court? His interaction with one UC fan tells us so much more about Gary's heart, than anything we've seen him do on the court.
Natalie Youtsey is a lifelong UC fan and avid runner. She was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in college and that's when she took her running to the next level. Long runs with her dad turned into one marathon, then six marathons in six states over six days,
Then she took on a 100-mile ultra-marathon.
"We're trying to run a marathon in every state," Natalie's dad Clark told Fox19 Now. "We've had a great time doing it. We're going to finish our journey. We have more states to do and we'll finish it."
What Natalie didn't know, what nobody knew, not her family, not her husband and high school sweetheart or even the doctors, was that the monthly infusion she was taking to help treat her M.S. was killing her.
"Oh my God. It was a nightmare," Natalie's mother Lynn said. "To this day, sometimes I wake up and I'm like, this can't be real. It was horrible. It was a nightmare every day we'd wake up."
In August 2017, the Miller's learned their daughter had contracted a brain virus, not from her M.S., but from the monthly drug infusion.
It's a virus known as Progressive Multifocal Leukoencephalopathy (PML) and it can have deadly effects.
"Many times I'd leave the hospital and I just was praying that my phone would not ring that night," said Clark Miller. "I'm amazed she had the strength and pulled through."
The Miller's continued to pray for a miracle.
One day in November, after three months in the hospital, that miracle arrived.
"Knowing that Natalie was in the state she was in, I knew if my family was going through that, I know how much it would mean to spend some time with someone in her position," Gary Clark said.
"To have someone help me really means a lot," Natalie told Fox19 Now.
"It was a God send," Lynn Miller said. "It was exactly what we needed at that moment."
Gary Clark gave Natalie so much more than his game-worn jersey, a signed basketball and a signed poster. He gave her hope.
It's that same hope that brought Natalie back to a UC basketball game.
After missing UC's first nine home games of the season, Natalie, just days after leaving the hospital, showed up for the first game of the new year against SMU.
"It was an emotional day because I knew how much it meant to her mother that she couldn't go to a game when she was in the hospital," Gary Clark said. "It was touching. You have to be a part of something like that to understand how much you impact someone's life like that. It was so cool."
Natalie represents all of us, in a way.
Through heartbreak, she is finding hope. It's a hero like Gary Clark who has become that beaming light of hope for Natalie.
"Gary showed me he's not just a force on the court, but one outstanding guy off the court," said Clark Miller. "We need more Gary Clark's."
"Anything is possible," said Gary Clark. "If she puts her mind to it, she'll be able to get back out there and run again."
You can see the heartbreak and hope in Natalie's eyes when you talk to her. She is improving daily, but it's not easy.
Her family is in the process of finding a new medication to help her cope with M.S. once she improves.
Natalie is running what feels like a marathon of the mind right now, trying to get back to where she once was.
She is signed up for the Flying Pig marathon.
If she can't run, her dad says he himself, with some help, will push her through the marathon in a wheelchair.
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