Former Freeport pitcher Meta battling illness
It has been more than two years since Alyssa Meta left Freeport High School, but the former pitching standout has yet to take the circle at the next level.
Instead, it’s been an angst-filled couple of years for her and she’s been left with the grave concern that she may never play softball again.
What was first thought to be dehydration and later, hormonal issues, grew into a more troubling health ailment: Postural Tachycardia Syndrome, or POTS.
The disorder did not allow Meta to play at Westminster. After a year off from school to adjust to her changing health, she transferred to Pitt-Johnstown. The slight, 5-foot-tall lefthander has put softball aside but has not given up hope she’ll play again.
POTS is a blood-circulation condition in which change in position — sitting to standing or walking up steps, for instance — can cause elevated heart rate, equilibrium issues and nausea, among other symptoms.
“The room would spin, my heart rate would sky-rocket,” Meta said.
While the illness has advanced on her and caused many, including her father and longtime coach, to become heartsick, Meta has remained focused on living with the condition.
“It’s a struggle just waking up; and I was never a morning person to begin with,” Meta said. “Now, with POTS, it’s 10 times worse. When I get out of bed, my heart races. It’s like I am running in place but I’m not even moving.”
Medication has subdued the episodes and allowed her to return to college, but not after the year off and months of rest.
“It was bad,” Larry Meta said. “I mean, she was on her back for a year. She has come a long way. It’s not quite a softball comeback story, but it’s still a comeback story.”
Meta, 20, said there were cold school days during the winter when fellow students were wearing winter jackets and sipping hot coffee, while she shed layers and downed ice water.
“I have good days and bad days,” she said. “I pray every single day that I can overcome this. Some people outgrow it. But then, my friend’s grandma has it. So who knows?”
Doctors say POTS can be triggered by trauma to the body at an earlier time. Meta has had her share of that.
She battled numerous injuries and overcame them: As a junior in high school, she fractured her back during volleyball season but didn’t know it until she was running to first base in a travel softball game and fell over in sudden pain.
A turtle-shell back brace showed something was wrong. But, “With POTS, you can’t see it,” Meta said. “I have done a good job of hiding it from a lot of people.”
But the sweat-drenched spells that almost always reached the brink of fainting were a giveaway that Meta was not quite right.
“The December before the summer I was going to college, (a doctor) said they could literally see my heart beating out of my chest,” Meta said. “So they sent me to a cardiologist.”
Then came the real teller: the tilt-table test, which helps detect causes of fainting.
“They strap you to a table, and the table tilts up,” she said. “After three minutes my heart rate was 175. I was dripping with sweat, and the whole room was spinning. The doctor said to let me down, I know what she has.”
Larry Meta wanted to follow his daughter’s college career, but now has a new focus.
“Nobody knows how hard she worked; to be a good pitcher you have to,” Larry Meta said. “I always believed she could come back and play, but as her father, I quickly came to realize softball is secondary.”
Alyssa still can draw from her softball experiences, albeit from a different angle.
“Softball taught her to work hard and overcome things,” Larry Meta said. “There’s no give-up in her until she achieves her goal.”
Former Highlands basketball star Micah Mason, now a starting guard at Duquesne, also suffers from POTS.
But unlike Mason, Meta said doctors do not believe gluten-filled foods affect her condition. Mason has to have specially prepared meals to eliminate gluten from his diet; Meta said she attempted to eat gluten-free but to no avail.
“It’s so rare, and there is not enough information out there on it,” Meta said. “Mine is a little more extreme (than Mason’s). It’s a more severe case.”
Mason and Meta were friends during their high-school years. When Mason heard of her symptoms, he became concerned for her.
“I told her to eat better and see a chiropractor,” Mason said. “When she told me her symptoms, it sounded like POTS so I told her to get checked.”
What was similar to Mason was the fact that Meta experienced dizziness upon standing up too fast. And her heart rate did blast off: A normal rate is between 60 and 100, far less than the 175 hers reached.
A group of family and close friends have supported Meta, among them her sister, Tori, and boyfriend, Freeport grad and Duquesne football player Tony Devivo.
“If I didn’t have them, I couldn’t get through this,” Meta said.
Tori, an incoming senior at UPJ, is rooming with Alyssa in an air-conditioned first-floor room to help her cope with her spells.
Every little bit helps.
“Even though I have yet to conquer it, I will never let it defeat me,” Meta said. “I had to work twice as hard than everyone else because of my size, and I will continue to work twice as hard when it comes to my health.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.