Evie Strope has always been a fighter. She was born with a congenital heart defect that led to congestive heart failure and ultimately a heart transplant in 2001 at the age of 32 years old. She had defied the odds, surviving surgeries, a major transplant rejection and countless hospital stays. Her heart, once fragile, now beats with the rhythm of resilience. This miraculous procedure had granted her a second chance. It was a gift she never took for granted, a treasure she vowed to protect with every fiber of her being. But recently, it was her knee that gave her a scare that led to months of health concerns and complications.

On October 24, 2023, Evie checked into the hospital for what was supposed to be a routine knee surgery that became the stage for an unforeseen crisis. She woke up from the knee surgery with extreme fatigue and fighting to stay awake. Tests were run, and the truth came to light—a bowel rupture, 95% septic, a dangerous complication that required immediate attention.

The prep for emergency surgery was a whirlwind. A blur of lights, faces, and the struggle to stay conscious before anesthesia was administered. When Evie awoke she realized she was tethered to a ventilator, this was a disorienting experience. The realization that this machine is acting as her lifeline. The distraction from the ventilator prevented her from realizing the new bag attached to her side. A small, inconspicuous pouch that now collected waste, it was a new reality, one where “Rosie” became her constant companion. The stoma and colostomy bag that served as a necessity to the damaged area of her large intestine. Naming it was her way of claiming power over her circumstances, a declaration that even in the face of adversity, she could find a spark of joy. It was a name chosen not out of affection, but resilience. A reminder that even the most critical circumstances could be met with a spark of humor.

Days turned into weeks, and Evie adjusted to life with “Rosie”. She learned to empty the bag discreetly, even cracking jokes about it with the nurses. The road to recovery was not a straight path. Each step Evie tried to take was a triumph over the pain and the lethargy. Her legs, once strong, now trembled beneath her. The nurses cheered her on, but the effort left her breathless, and soon, a bout of pneumonia set in. It was a setback, but Evie’s spirit remained strong. She continued to tell herself “I have to get stronger”! She continued to feel “thankful to be alive and to get another chance that most people under these circumstances don’t get”. Swollen ankles bore witness to the hours she spent confined to her bed, the fluid pooling where movement used to keep it at bay. 

When she was released to Peoria Rehab Post-Acute Care the continual demand of physical therapy was her beacon of hope. She was in a place where progress was measured in steps and strength, this led Evie to become “more aware and thankful each day to not take things for granted.” However, it wasn’t long before an infection found its way to the site of her new stoma. It was a cruel turn, a reminder that healing was not a linear process.

Back in the hospital, a familiar reality once more. But this time, the infection was met with Evie’s main goal which she says is “to get stronger and better so I can go to the Transplant Games of America in July. Even if I’m a little weak, I’m there to support the team.” With treatment, the fever subsided, and the redness faded. The infection was conquered, leaving Evie with a new sense of determination. Despite the pain, despite the fatigue, Evie’s spirit remained strong. She fought, with “Rosie” by her side, to rebuild the life that had been so rudely interrupted.

When she returned to the post-surgery rehab, something had shifted. The setbacks had not weakened her; they had made her resolve into something stronger. With each step, her confidence grew, and her body remembered the repetition of movement. Evie’s recovery was not just a return to health; it was a journey of resilience. Each obstacle had taught her more about her own strength than she had ever known. And as she walked out of rehab, her steps were not just a testament to her physical recovery, but to the unyielding spirit that had carried her through.

As sick as she was, Evie’s optimism remained a bright light to those around her. Her laughter echoed, a sound that seemed too lively for such a place. Evie’s journey was not just a fight for recovery; it was a lesson in positivity. She showed that even when the body is weak, the spirit can soar. With each day, she grows and continues to grow stronger, her unyielding will, her heart, both the one she was born with and the one she received.

Come July, Evie won’t just be cheering on Team AZ in Birmingham at the Transplant Games, she will be representing as she competes in Darts and the Trivia Challenge.  “She is the definition of ‘you can’t keep this girl down.’ It’s been inspiring to witness Evie fight with determination and the goal of making it to the Games,” said Tila Achuff, Team AZ Captain. “We will be proud to walk alongside Evie in the Parade of Athletes as Team AZ enters the Legacy Arena during the opening ceremonies this summer.” Evie has attended and competed in the Transplant Games of America since Salt Lake City in 2018.