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Mary Lou Retton Opens up about Brush with Death

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Legendary American gymnast Mary Lou Retton is opening up about her brush with death after a bout with pneumonia, telling NBC’s Today Show that she likely would be dead today if a caring neighbor had not checked on her at her home the day she landed in the hospital.

She was the star at the 1984 Summer Olympics, winning a gold, two silvers, and two bronzes, including the individual all-around title. Retton was the first American woman to win the all-around title. 

Today, the 55-year-old Retton is on an oxygen apparatus as her lungs continue to heal. She still cannot take deep breaths, she said.

“This is serious, and this is life, and I’m so grateful to be here,” Retton said. “I am blessed to be here because there was a time when they were about to put me on life support.”

Retton and her daughter Shayla Schrepfer were getting their nails done in October when Retton began feeling tired. The next day, a neighbor grew concerned after she saw the door open on Retton’s car. The neighbor lives across the street and found Retton lying on her bedroom floor, struggling to breathe. 

“She came into the house. She knows my code and saw me and found me,” Retton said. “And Magda pretty much saved my life.”

Soon, her oxygen saturation level plunged to the 70s, well short of the normal 95 to 100 range. 

Doctors considered placing her on a ventilator. Her daughters prayed over her, she told Today.

“They were saying their goodbyes to me,” Retton said.

Thankfully, her oxygen levels rose enough to keep her off a ventilator. Doctors still don’t know what caused the pneumonia. She tested negative for Covid-19, the flu and RSV. 

Doctors hope to perform a biopsy on her lungs when she recovers. 

“You don’t get to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she told Today. “So it’s a day-by-day recovery period.”

There are more “positives” than “negatives” in her life, Retton said. 

“I’m not great yet, and I know it’s going to be a really long road. I don’t know how long I’ll indefinitely need the oxygen. But you have no idea how blessed and how grateful I was for this holiday season,” Retton said.

Photo Courtesy: @Getty Images/Jonathan Daniel / Staff
Video Courtesy: TODAY via YouTube


Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chroniclethe Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

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