From Paralyzed to Playing Volleyball in 15 Months – The Story of Naomi Franco

Wednesday, Mar 17, 2021 at 3:37 pm by Sports Editor

By Nick Luttrell

CitrusTV’s Volleyball Beat Reporter

December 29, 2019. Atlanta, Georgia. It seemed to be just a normal day for Naomi Franco. The senior standout of Fayette County High School was on her way to another typical club volleyball practice. 

That morning, she had woken up with a headache and a nauseous stomach but didn’t think that much of it. While her dad, Kwesi Franco, drove her to practice, she realized that it could be more than just a headache. As the sweat began slipping down Naomi’s face, her dad knew it was time to head to the emergency room. Just before pulling into the parking lot, Naomi lost consciousness.

After multiple tests and a CT scan, the doctors discovered that she had a brain hemorrhage. Also known as a Hemorrhagic stroke, this is when a ruptured blood vessel causes bleeding inside the brain. Naomi quickly underwent successful surgery and the next thing she remembered was lying in the hospital bed, unable to move the entire right side of her body. 

Franco recalled this painful process of first waking up in the hospital.   “My memory was not that good. I would forget things, and that was kind of scary, on top of not being able to move half of my body, so that was really hard for me to process,” Naomi said.

Franco expressed that one of the most difficult things for her was that just a day ago she was doing normal things: walking, running, playing volleyball, etc. But in the blink of an eye, all of that was gone. And when or if she would return to that life was unknown. 

Just a month earlier, the Atlanta native had signed her National Letter of Intent to play volleyball at Syracuse University. And a week after her surgery, her future college coach, Leonid Yelin, made the 900-mile trip to visit Franco. At this point in her recovery process, she was slowly getting healthier but still needed help with something as simple as sitting up in bed. Yelin said he had a troubling experience seeing such a terrific athlete, like Noami, in such a poor condition. Yet, there was one thing that stood out to him in his short conversation with Franco. 

“She said, ‘Coach, don’t give up on me. I’ll be back’ …. Fighting for her life and she’s telling me she’ll be back — that’s a really special kid.”

Yelin remained committed to keeping Naomi’s scholarship and told her that there will be a special place for her on SU’s team whether she’s able to return to the court or not. 

In September of 2020, not even a year removed from her brain surgery, Franco played and contributed to SU’s season-opening win over Pittsburgh. And if solely playing in a game was not enough, on March 7, 2021, she earned a spot in the starting lineup against Clemson and led her team to a five-set win. She finished that game with a career-high 15 kills and 4 blocks.

Naomi Franco’s story is one of adversity. It is one that inspires. It puts in perspective everything you thought was important in life. But Franco didn’t miraculously recover just so she could walk again. She didn’t work harder than anyone else just to be “normal” again. She was fueled by one passion in her life that will never go away no matter what obstacle is thrown in her path. That’s the passion and love for the game of volleyball. | @nickluttie