‘A complete miracle’
How the power of love and prayer helped basketball’s beloved ‘Miss Linda’ survive.
Early in the morning of Dec. 22, Linda Waltz — “Miss Linda” to all those who know the beloved administrative assistant and “mother” of the University of Dayton women’s basketball program for the past 24 years — woke her husband, Dale, and told him she could not breathe.
A few days earlier, during one of the often daily COVID-19 tests the team had to undergo last season, she had tested positive for the virus.
She thought she could recover back home at her 100-year-old farmhouse in Jefferson Township, Ohio, but it now was clear she needed to go to the hospital — immediately.
“That’s the last thing I remember — leaving our farm driveway for Kettering Hospital — until the second week of February,” she said in a raspy voice in late May.
Her seven missing weeks are something her family, the medical staff who treated her and especially her UD family will never forget.
“I was there when she was admitted to the COVID ICU,” Dr. Esteban Arevalo Caro later wrote to her family. “The virus started to kill her lungs very soon. She was significantly worse every day, actually every hour.”
“The virus started to kill her lungs very soon. She was significantly worse every day, actually every hour.”
Her daughter, Emily Aldredge, said her mom was told she had a 5% chance of survival.
She ended up on a ventilator for five-and-a-half weeks and in a medically induced coma.
She contracted double pneumonia, had a blood infection and got, as Waltz put it, “every other bad thing that comes with COVID.”
Aldredge said her mom nearly died twice.
Everyone else in her COVID-19 unit did die, Waltz said she was told by a doctor.
In early January, her husband drove to the hospital to say a final goodbye.
And that brings us to the late-morning occurrence of Jan. 7 that UD women’s basketball head coach Shauna Green — voicing the sentiments of so many in the Flyer family — now calls “a complete miracle.”
Neil Sullivan, UD’s vice president and director of athletics, agrees: “It was probably the most powerful thing I have been a part of in my 15 years working here. It was truly amazing.”
“It was probably the most powerful thing I have been a part of in my 15 years working here. It was truly amazing.”
On the evening of Jan. 6, Green contacted Sullivan and told him Waltz’s condition had so badly deteriorated that the family was collecting information for her obituary. Dale Waltz wanted UD to know this “hadn’t been a job for her, it was a labor of love.”
She had shown no improvement. Aldredge said some doctors — but not Arevalo, who became her mom’s staunchest supporter — suggested it was time to change her coding. If she were to be moved to “do-not-resuscitate comfort care,” she could be taken off the ventilator.
Sullivan mulled over what he was hearing, and an hour later said he felt he had to do something: “We’re a Catholic — a Christian — school, and we believe in the power of prayer. ... Sometimes God is the last place we go to, and he should be the first.”
Sullivan sent an email out to the entire athletic department, inviting people to take part in a voluntary prayer offering the next morning, via Zoom, for Waltz, who was battling “serious illness related to COVID-19.”
He didn’t confide that she was at death’s door, but word quickly spread.
Unbeknownst to them, Aldredge was “super distraught” the night of Jan. 6, she said, because, like the rest of the family — Waltz has four daughters in her extended family, eight grandchildren and three great-grandkids — she had been unable to see her mom in person since Waltz had been admitted to the hospital.
That’s when Aldredge took the advice of a friend who said, “Your mom needs to hear your voice. You need to call her.”
Aldredge first thought of all the reasons that wouldn’t work: Her mom was in a coma. The nurses were already overwhelmed with tasks on the COVID-19 ward. She herself might start crying during the call and make things worse.
Then she thought of the VoiceOver app on her phone, and it enabled her to perfect a message that was part pep talk, part plea: “You’re doing great, Mom! We just need you to pull out Super Mom now.”
“You’re doing great, Mom! We just need you to pull out Super Mom now.”
The nurses loved the effort and played it for her mother on a couple of occasions.
Almost instantly, Waltz’s ventilator numbers got better. Even the doctors were stunned.
So, the next morning, as Sullivan was preparing to lead what he planned to be an in-house Zoom call, he was informed of a last-minute change in plans.
He said “God intervened,” though the heavenly duties were carried out by his executive assistant Debbie Seaman and Aldredge, who worked in conjunction with the Kettering nurses to get the Zoom call piped live into her mom’s room.
“It took on a whole different tenor then,” Sullivan said. “It was divinely inspired.”
He said it also became “a very Dayton moment.”
“I’m not a theologian,” Sullivan said, “but I said I would start it off and then anybody else could join in with their prayers or remembrances or whatever they felt.
“I figured a few people would take part, but there were dozens and dozens of people joining in.”
Some 65 people joined the call, and one after another, coaches, staffers, administrators and friends told “Miss Linda” what she meant to them, how they loved her and how they needed her back.
“She was sedated, but we believe she could hear,” Sullivan said. “It was the power of prayer. It was a God thing.”
“It was the power of prayer. It was a God thing.”
Her numbers continued to improve, and she took a dramatic turn for the better.
After that, Aldredge — with the help of Beth Flach ’10, the academic coordinator for UD student-athletes — urged people to send more audio messages to her mom. She got 55.
“The UD family had her back,” Aldredge said.
UD President Eric F. Spina contacted her twice, and dozens of players reached out, from alumnae Christi Hester Mack ’00, Kayla Moses ’12, Sam MacKay ’13 and Andrea Hoover ’15 to current Flyers like Erin Whalen and Araion “A.B.” Bradshaw.
“They said, ‘You were like our mom away from home. You treated us like we were your daughters, and now it’s our turn to look out for you,’” recalled Aldredge.
When Waltz was finally moving to the post-acute medical facility at Sycamore Hospital, the UD family — at Seaman’s prompting — filled her room with flowers, teddy bears and cards.
And when she was finally released March 1, the UD family surprised her with a drive-by parade — 18 cars, many decorated with streamers and signs — past her 14-acre farm just west of Dayton.
Although she has undergone physical, occupational and voice therapy and continues to deal with what she said are the afflictions that COVID-19 long-haulers endure — she had a heart valve problem; her lungs were scarred; she must use portable oxygen; she tires easily; and she has had bouts of dizziness — she has been improving.
By late May she’d even begun mowing her large yard on a riding mower in 60-inch swaths.
“It just felt so good, being outside with the sun on my face,” she said. “I was home. I was alive!”
“It just felt so good, being outside with the sun on my face. I was home. I was alive!”
That Darth Vader voice Aldredge heard when her mom was on a positive airway pressure machine in the hospital has given way to a new huskiness.
Although Waltz said she lost much of her hair from the trauma, she has taken to wearing it in a stylish pixie cut. It’s part of a new look that has come with losing 42 pounds in the ordeal.
“A.B. told me, ‘Miss Linda, you look great,’’ Waltz laughed. “I said, ‘Yeah, it’s called the COVID diet. I wouldn’t recommend it.’”
Waltz felt well enough in late May that Aldredge took her on a one-day, whirlwind thank you tour. She had lunch in Centerville with nine of the nurses who cared for her in the COVID-19 ICU.
“There were a lot of tears,” Aldredge said. “They told my mom, ‘We needed you as much as you needed us. We were around so much death. We needed to see somebody survive. We needed to see your will, your spirit and the way your family and everyone supported you and loved you so much.’”
She also had coffee with Arevalo, the medical resident from Chile who had tried to convince everyone not to give up on her because he could tell — by the squeeze of her hand, the faint sound he’d heard in her damaged lungs — that she still was fighting.
That day, she paid a surprise visit to the women’s basketball offices at UD as well.
No one was more warmed to see her than Green, who’d convinced Waltz to stay on five years ago after Jim Jabir left the head coaching job. He was the third head coach Waltz had worked for, and she said she had planned to retire when he left.
“She’s kind of the mom of the whole program,” Green said. “She takes care of our kids, and really, she spoils all of us. She knows how to get everything done here. She’s an integral piece of the program and the basketball family.
“Everyone loves her and wants her back.”
“She’s kind of the mom of the whole program. ... Everyone loves her and wants her back.”
The feeling is mutual.
“My doctor said I should be back to myself by December, and I want to be back part time then,” Waltz said. “I know I’m very lucky to be here, and a lot of it has to do with the love and the prayers I got from everyone at UD.
“God has something else in mind for me. My job isn’t done. I don’t know what it is, but when it comes to me, I’ll know.”
Folks at UD think they already do.
She’s a walking miracle.
For them, she’s a living reminder of the power of prayer, the power of community and a time when UD was at its very best.