Jun. 5—Mission United U13 girls soccer lost its heartbeat on the field when Brinley Hutson was hospitalized with a rare bacterial infection — a complication following one of the most common injuries in youth soccer, a kick to the shin.
A week after her initial injury, Brinley was hit again in the same spot during a softball game. When she started feeling sick, her family sought medical attention and she was admitted to Children's Mercy Hospital on May 20.
Brinley's team of doctors completed more than 10 procedures in an attempt to combat a life-threatening infection, eventually rushing her into emergency surgery on a Saturday to amputate her left leg from the knee down.
She was unaware of the state of her leg until she woke up the next day, Sunday, May 31.
Meagan Witkowski, whose daughter has known Brinley since kindergarten, said the doctors are now hopeful that Hutson is past the worst of the infection and is on the road to recovery.
Witkowski described Brinley, 12, as tough yet humble and kind to others.
"She has always she's been someone that's been very proud of bruises she's carried," Witkowski said. "She's very physically tough on the field — she's been a wall. It's just phenomenal. No one gets past her, and she gets a lot of bruises from that.
"She's always bragged about them, and so the fact that a bruise is what has led down this path is just so terrifying."
Despite her doctors' optimism that Brinley is through the worst of it, her road to recovery will not be short, or easy. But her team and community have no plans of leaving her side: a GoFundMe established after her injury raised $73,057 in four days toward medical expenses, therapy and prosthetics.
"We live in such an unbelievably close-knit, not just soccer, community — just the Kansas City metro area has been awesome," said Dario Jaramillo, her soccer coach. "This groundswell of support for Brinley outside of the soccer community and within it has really proven to our players that good exists, that good things happen to good people and that great things are going to happen for Brinley."
Professional teams in Kansas City have also heard about Brinley's situation, and some are getting involved in one way or another.
Sporting KC players signed a jersey and sent it and videos from coach Peter Vermes and defender Graham Zusi. Former KC Chiefs and Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith, who battled a similar infection, has offered to talk with Brinley whenever she's recovered and ready.
The Chiefs, Royals and KC NWSL have expressed interest in getting involved, too.
KC NWSL coach Huw Williams said Brinley's situation is tragic, especially stemming from an injury that happens daily in practice. The soccer community is a tight one, and Williams said he will do anything and everything he can to help in the girl's recovery efforts.
Brinley had played with Mission United for three seasons. Jaramillo said it's been hard not having her with the team and called her "an unbelievable role model." As a teammate, he said, she's selfless; as a friend, she's a comedian who keeps everyone's spirits up.
"There's never a dull moment with Brinley," friend Lauren Freberg said. "She's always making really funny jokes or doing something funny, but she's always in the moment. ... She's the type of person you want to surround yourself with."
Other friends shared similar sentiments. Keira Witkowski described Brinley as kind, fierce and determined. Isabel Fulcher said her kindness has been obvious since they met two years ago.
"I remember when I first met her at tryouts, she just wanted to be my friend," Isabel said. "She was just really nice to everybody and wanted to be friends with everyone."
The most important thing to her team and community now is to ensure that Brinley never loses her positive outlook or sense of purpose, and that while she's a talented athlete, she knows "she's so much more than that," as Jaramillo put it.
On Friday, the team and families gathered to make yard signs to raise awareness for the long road still ahead of Brinley in her recovery process. Teammates painted the phrases "Fight like Brinley" and "Win 4 Brin" in bright colors. Her jersey number — 87, chosen for her favorite Chiefs player, Travis Kelce — was featured on the signs, as well.
Witkowski and Jaramillo said that, while the girls have been compassionate and understanding, it's difficult for them to grasp the weight of their teammate's situation.
"What I've said to my girls is that we can never walk in Brinley's path," Meagan Witkowski said. "But we can walk next to her and do our best to understand that, and we're doing the work to show Brinley that we are committed to her friendship, and to making her feel comfortable when she's ready to connect again."
Jaramillo believes the team's parents have an opportunity here to educate their kids and help them become more accepting people. It was important to the parents to have prosthetic specialist Emily Perkins speak with the young players when they gathered in support Friday.
Perkins even brought a prosthetic leg for them to look at before they see Brinley's future prosthetic first-hand.
"Although this is a very unfortunate circumstance, it doesn't mean that Brinley's life is over — it doesn't mean that Brinley's sports life is over," Jaramillo said. "In fact, it could mean, and will mean, so long as we stay supportive, that this is just a new life for Brinley.
"And in time, it could serve as a platform for her and her family to inspire thousands of other kids, thousands of other people that may be faced with similar challenges."
The Mission United girls were excited to learn about prosthetics, and Keira Witkowski, one of Brinley's friends and teammates, was happy to be able to ask Perkins questions.
"I think it's really cool that we get to learn about it and it's cool she gets so many options," Keira said. "It's going be really cool to see her personality come out and getting a new prosthetic what she likes. I think it's really cool how much technology has developed."
Perkins gave the team a piece of advice, though: Brinley's journey will feel lonely at times, so their excitement and support shouldn't be short-lived.
"She doesn't have probably a lot of friends that have gone through anything like this," Perkins told the team. "So as fun as it is now to make signs and be really excited, in six months, we have still be really excited and really surround her without support in that way. So it's a really big deal to stay with her through this whole process."
From all indications, Brinley's teammates are ready to welcome home their friend and show her the same care and kindness Hutson has shown them. Liana Jaramillo said Brinley is her best friend — the best friend she could ever have, "because she's Brinley."
"I missed her making everyone laugh and her keeping everyone happy," Liana Jaramillo said. "She always focused on how everyone else was feeling so that she could be there for them if they were feeling down.
"I love her and she will always be the same person in her heart because she still has the same heart."
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