Norfolk State's Amber Brown making strides after waking up from coma

Amber Brown cheered on her Norfolk State Spartans for the first time since awaking from a medically induced coma in January. Vicki L. Friedman

NORFOLK, Va. -- Six weeks ago, it looked as if Norfolk State forward Amber Brown might die after suffering a diabetes-related stroke and three cardiac arrests.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old from Atlanta sat courtside at Echols Hall watching her Spartan teammates rally from 14 back only to fall four points shy against Morgan State. She snapped pictures with her iPhone, texted at a furious pace, ate a hot dog from the concession stand, giggled with her best friend and accepted handshakes, hugs and even flowers from fans who repeatedly told her how much they prayed for her during the 40-day ordeal when she was hospitalized.

"He lives in you!" Stuart Howard said, using a preacher's tone after enveloping Brown in a bear hug. The Norfolk resident found the same quiet spot every day to pray for Brown, the Norfolk State junior who was found unresponsive in her dorm room on Jan. 1.

"When you go to church tomorrow, you let Him know how much you love Him," Howard told her. "When you are able, I want you to come to my church and give testimony, because you are a miracle."

Promising that she would, Brown answered, "Great, I feel great," to everyone who asked. "Every day, a little more of me comes back."

Brown beamed all afternoon, as did her mother, Coretta, who maintained a vigil by her daughter's bedside in intensive care for three weeks. It all began with the news that Amber, a Type 1 diabetic, had been taken to Sentara Heart Hospital after being found with a faint heartbeat. Coretta said the family does not know why Amber's blood sugar soared to such a frighteningly high level that she began to seize, forcing doctors to put her in a medically induced coma.

Doctors initially presented Coretta with end-of-life measures, unable to find much hope in CT scans that predicted a grim prognosis, she said.

She quit both her jobs in Georgia to remain in Norfolk and prayed relentlessly, urging others to do the same.

"It's so heartbreaking," Dick Vitale tweeted on Jan. 7. "Pls keep Amber Brown of Norfolk State U in ur prayers."

Amber's sister, Ebony, started a "Supporting Amber" Facebook page, reporting even the most minimal progress. A family member set up a GoFundMe page that raised more than $8,000. After Saturday's game, the university presented Amber with a check for $5,836.52, funds raised by the Spartan faithful who proudly embrace the historically black college's motto "Behold the green and gold."

Amber gradually woke up in mid-January and immediately recognized her mother and Ebony, meeting their eyes. Her verbal communication was limited until doctors removed the tracheal tube, necessary when a ventilator was doing the majority of her breathing for her.

"I wrote everything down and they learned to read my lips," said Amber, whose first words were "I'm hungry."

Coretta said while Amber's physicians told her they were humbled by a recovery they cannot fully explain, she holds no ill feelings toward them.

"This is not us," she said. "This was a higher power at work."

Yet Coretta admits that while her faith carried her through the worst time of her life, she didn't anticipate Amber making the strides she has so quickly. Doctors thought Amber would require more inpatient rehab, but quickly she was walking well, acing Wii bowling and basketball.

"Amber's really Amber," Coretta said. "Same old jokes, same facial expressions, even rolling her eyes at the same things."

Same old stubbornness that nearly drove Coretta mad when Amber tore her ACL and meniscus in her junior year of high school. Amber was so intent to rehab quickly that her mother found her rehabbing in the middle of the night. On Saturday, Coretta thought a trip to the mall followed by a Spartans doubleheader would be too tiring for her daughter, released from the hospital just three days prior.

"She has not stopped," Coretta said. "I want to do things for her, but she keeps telling me in order for her to get better, she has to do things for herself. Today we went shopping because she wants to go to two different churches tomorrow, one at 8 a.m. and one at 10 a.m."

Much of Amber's memory remains fuzzy. She doesn't recall how she ended up on the floor of her dorm for what doctors believe was 12 hours, found only when her coach became alarmed that she didn't show up for a New Year's Day practice. In fact, Amber can't remember much about November, the 10 games she played in this season, her psychology classes, even the gold Jetta that Coretta bought in October.

"Mom, whose car is this?" she asked the other day.

"Amber! You've driven this car," Coretta told her.

The support Amber receives continues to overwhelm her. She is touched by the reach of social media that mounted a #PrayforAmber hashtag. One by one, her teammates stopped to hug her before returning to the floor for the second half. University president Eddie Moore Jr. slipped next to her for a picture.

"Welcome back, Boo!" the public address announcer exclaimed.

Amber plans to play basketball again, even if it's just one more game, she said, and she wants to return to the classroom this summer. For now, every day is a blessing, she said, and she plans to savor her second chance.

"I am so excited," she said. "I want to show people you can come through something like this and do what you want to in life."