Mary Lou Retton Faces Long Recovery After Pneumonia Scare

Olympic gymnastics great Mary Lou Retton said she faces a long battle recuperating at home from a rare form of pneumonia in which doctors weren’t sure whether she would survive.

In an interview that aired Monday on NBC’s “Today” show, Retton said while wearing a breathing tube pumping oxygen through her nose that she was sent home after a few days in a Texas hospital but had an immediate setback that required her to be put in intensive care in October.

“This is serious and this is life,” Retton said. “And I am so grateful to be here. I am blessed to be here. Because there was a time when they were about to put me on life support.”

Retton, 55, was supposed to meet her daughters at a football game in Dallas but never showed up. A neighbor noticed a car door left open in her driveway, went to alert Retton and found her alone at home. The neighbor drove Retton to an emergency room.

After Retton was discharged with the pneumonia diagnosis, Shayla Kelley Schrepfer, the oldest of Retton’s four daughters, said she found her mother almost unresponsive the next day and took Retton to another hospital, where doctors found that her oxygen levels were dangerously low.

After a week, Retton’s medical team considered putting her on a ventilator. Schrepfer said she was told it wasn’t certain whether Retton would make it through the night.

“It was crazy,” Schrepfer said, sitting next to her mother during the interview. “I just remember loving on you and giving you a hug.”

“They were saying their goodbyes to me,” Retton said.

Unable to breathe on her own, Retton went on oxygen treatment and, after weeks in the hospital, improved enough to be sent home.

“I’m not great yet,” Retton said. “I know it’s going to be a really long road.”

The family revealed during her hospital stay that Retton didn’t have medical insurance. Retton said Monday that she has had more than 30 orthopedic-type operations over the years and couldn’t afford insurance but she now has it. Donations poured into an online fundraiser the family set up that has received more than 8,300 donations totaling nearly $460,000.

Retton was 16 when she became the first American female gymnast to win the all-around title at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The native of Fairmont, West Virginia, also won two silver and two bronze medals at those Summer Games to help bring gymnastics — a sport long dominated by eastern European powers like Romania and the Soviet Union — into the mainstream in the U.S.

Retton became the first woman to be featured on the front of a Wheaties cereal box. She retired from competitive gymnastics in 1986 and did numerous commercial endorsements. She also made several film and television appearances, including a stint on “Dancing with the Stars.” She and her husband, Shannon Kelley, divorced in 2018.

“When you face death in the eyes, I have so much to look forward to,” Retton said. “I’m a fighter. And I’m not going to give up.”

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