After double leg amputation, UB volleyball player fights for her life

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A member of the women’s volleyball team at the University at Buffalo is in the hospital after an aggressive infection took over her body.

There’s something exciting about your senior year of college, it’s like the rest of your life is about to start. But that’s not the case anymore for Monika Simkova, a UB volleyball player, who has spent the past three months in buffalo general hospital, fighting for her life.

“It was like a nightmare. I can’t even describe it. It was like a nightmare,” Simkova’s sister said.

Monika Simkova dominates on the UB volleyball court. Her coach brags that she’s one of the best servers in the Mid-American Conference.

“She’s a 6’2″ lefty from Slovakia. She was a transfer from Long Beach State. Right after I got the head coaching job, she was the first person I brought on the campus,” said Scott Smith, head coach, UB Women’s Volleyball.

“She’s got a special place in my heart for sure.”

To know Monika is to love her and it’s undisputed among her teammates.

“She’s someone who is very dependable she always likes having a friend, so she’s going to do something, she’s going to have someone to do something with,” one of Simkova’s teammates told us.

With a group as close as the UB women’s volleyball team, Monika was rarely alone. So it wasn’t unusual for her coach to check on her when she came down with a cold. But Scott Smith soon realized Monika was fighting more than just a cold.

“When I got there she really wasn’t looking good. Coloring was off, she wasn’t breathing normally and I was like, we need to call 9-1-1 I think we need an ambulance. I don’t think I can get her out of the apartment,” said Smith.

Rushing the athlete who was perfectly healthy only days before to the ICU, doctors realized an aggressive bacterial infection had taken over and her body turned septic.

It was like, wait she just had a cold and so obviously it was much more than that. We weren’t able to see that beforehand, and even at the ER, they were unsure what was happening,” Smith added.

Monika’s sister was still in Slovakia trying desperately to get to her in time. But decisions to save her life had to be made fast.

“They amputated both her legs. Both, so it happened when we were back home in Slovakia,” Monika’s sister told us. “Her legs needed to be amputated above the knees. They were beyond saving.”

After weeks of critical care, Lucia says Monika has no memory of what happened.

“She started realizing what just happened. And it happened because doctors just tried to save her life. There was no guarantee that even without the legs that she would survive.”

It’s an uphill battle.

“It’s going to be mentally really, really challenging. It’s not just a matter of weeks. Maybe months. Maybe years before she fully accepts what happened,” Monika’s sister added.

But she’s not fighting alone and her teammates are making sure she knows that. They started a GoFundMe page that’s raised more than $130,000 for her and her family. They also have a new team motto.

We came up with a hashtag, ‘One4Mon’ and that just shows we’re trying to get unity and be together and the community to be one for her and us to reflect on something to be one for her,” Milla Malik, Monika’s roommate said.

The team keeps Monika close, the “One4Mon” hashtag written on their hands during games, and honoring her jersey are just a few ways.

“The outpouring of support from the UB community has been just absolutely amazing. We’ve been floored with the response,” Monika’s teammate said.

Monika and Lucia spend their days at Buffalo General, first in the ICU, but now graduating to the step-down unit for recovery. Buffalo has become a new kind of home for the sisters.

“When I came here I didn’t know anyone in this city. I was completely alone. I was a complete stranger. But I feel like we have amazing support from the whole community here,” Monika’s sister told us.

The support from the college and community keeps them going as they get ready for whatever comes next.

“She’s a fighter. She’s unbelievably strong — mentally. And she is just fighting to get her life back.”

If you’d like to donate to Monika Simkova’s GoFundMe page, click here.

Abby Fridmann is an anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in November 2020. See more of her work here.

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