Olympic Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton ‘Faced Eyes With Death’ During Pneumonia Battle

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Former Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton says she is “blessed” to be alive after battling a life-threatening form of pneumonia this past fall.

In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Retton struggled to take deep breaths but shared that she is “grateful” and has “so much to look forward to” on her road to recovery. 

“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.”

The 55-year-old Retton, dubbed “America’s Sweetheart,” said she was feeling a little tired last October when getting her nails done with her daughter, Shayla Schrepfer, but there were no other signs of the health scare that lay ahead. 

The next day, her neighbor found Retton lying on her bedroom floor, struggling to breathe. 

“She pretty much saved my life,” Retton recalled. “She said I was white and blue.”

Retton told “Today” she doesn’t remember much of anything else, but her daughter described that doctors ran several tests and couldn’t find anything wrong when she tested negative for COVID-19, the flu and RSV. 

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However, her lungs showed that she was struggling to retain oxygen. While normal oxygen saturation is between 95% to 100%, Retton’s plunged to 70%. 

Medical staff considered putting her on a ventilator. 

Her daughters decided to pray, and thankfully her oxygen levels rose enough that the doctors were able to keep her off of a ventilator.

They decided to put her on high-flow nasal oxygen. While her lungs healed, her daughters set out to lessen the financial burden of her medical bills. 

As CBN News reported, the high-profile athlete did not have health insurance.

“The bottom line – I couldn’t afford it,” Retton said. “Can you believe that?”

Schrepfer told “Today” that all she could think about was, “If she pulls through, the last thing we want her to have to think about is paying off these [medical] bills.”

So she and her sister, McKenna Kelley, started a fundraising campaign on Retton’s behalf on Spotfund.

“My amazing mom, Mary Lou, has a very rare form of pneumonia and is fighting for her life,” she wrote in a message on the fundraising page. “She is not able to breathe on her own. She’s been in the ICU for over a week now. Out of respect for her and her privacy, I will not disclose all details. However, I will disclose that she (is) not insured.”

“We ask that if you could help in any way, that 1) you PRAY! and 2) if you could help us with finances for the hospital bill,” Kelley continued.

The crowdfunding effort raised more than $459,000 to date.

And Retton was released from the hospital in late October. 

“I’m not great yet,” Retton said through a nasal oxygen machine. “I know it’s going to be a really long road.”

Retton said she is grateful for the people who prayed for her while she was ill and added that she is determined to fight each day. 

“When you face death in the eyes, I have so much to look forward to,” Retton said. “I’m a fighter. And I’m not going to give up. I’m not going to give up. I have no idea what the future holds for me. I don’t know if I’m going to have lasting issues with my lungs. They don’t know. I wish I had answers. But I would never give up. It’s not in me.”

And it was that “never give up” spirit that led a 16-year-old Retton to become the first American female gymnast to win the all-around title at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. She also won two silver and two bronze medals at those games and helped bring gymnastics – a sport long dominated by Eastern European powers like Romania and the Soviet Union – into the mainstream in the U.S.

“She’s the one in a million who wins the Olympics. She’s also the one in a million that will get some rare form of pneumonia – you have no idea what it is, but she’ll make it through,” Schrepfer said. 

Retton, a born-again Christian, told CBN many years ago that her faith has kept her grounded through the highs and lows of life.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without my relationship with God,” she shared. “My relationship with Jesus Christ is so much stronger now, but then, I mean, I knew He gave me talent and I knew that He brought Bela Karolyi into my life to bring that talent out. I give Him all the glory.” 

MORE   ‘Thank You Jesus’: Mary Lou Retton Back at Home After Spending Weeks in ICU Fighting for Her Life

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