One in a million: Women’s Volleyball’s Grace Hinchman

Junior Grace Hinchman has been defined as someone who never backs down — even after a life-changing medical diagnosis.

Junior libero Grace Hinchman was drawn to Loyola for its location. It was the perfect match — close to the lake and close to home in Geneva, Ill. It’s also somewhere she could play volleyball, something she’s loved her whole life. 

Hinchman came to Loyola as a walk-on in 2020 and earned a scholarship after Head Coach Amanda Berkley saw how hard she worked on and off the court. 

“She is probably one of the most competitive players that we have on our team,” Berkley said. “She’s very quick, tenacious on defense and just a really true competitor.” 

Hinchman notched her 1000th Loyola career dig in the team’s second match of the season, a 2-3 loss against the University of Tennessee at the Tennessee Cup in Knoxville, Tenn. 

The career achievement was an exciting time for Hinchman, who said she didn’t know it would happen during the match. She didn’t even know if she would play in that match or even for the rest of her life. 

Over the summer, Hinchman was faced with a life-changing health scare. She said it began with a common fever and headaches, but, after her symptoms progressed, she went to the Northwestern Medicine Central DuPage Hospital Emergency Room. There, the nurses performed a respiratory panel on her. The results came back negative and Hinchman was told to return if her symptoms prevailed. 

After her fever worsened, she went to Edward Hospital in Naperville, where Hinchman said her first seizure occurred. She said the only thing she remembers is being in the back of an ambulance where she asked the EMT, “Am I going to die?”

Hinchman had 35 to 40 seizures, according to the medical personnel working with her, within one day — all before she gained consciousness. After multiple tests at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where she was transferred, the doctors diagnosed her with Febrile Infection-Related Epilepsy Syndrome, otherwise known as FIRES. 

FIRES is a syndrome which affects approximately one in a million children, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. The rare chronic syndrome develops after a fever, which can occur anytime from two days to two weeks after the fever develops. Seizures start and progressively get more frequent in a process called refractory epilepsy, meaning the seizures become unmanageable or resistant to treatment, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. 

After the diagnosis, Hinchman started medical treatment and has yet to have a seizure. She said it’s extremely rare for a person diagnosed with FIRES to have a one-time episode of seizures. 

Her fast recovery time was remarkable. Something that could’ve killed her and forced her to relearn most cognitive functions, left her alive and still able to play volleyball. Her teammate, junior outside hitter Emily Banitt said watching her comeback has been amazing. 

“[There was] a news report that said her recovery would’ve taken other people years,” Banitt said. “It’s amazing how a few days after she got out of the hospital, she was back at her [volleyball] club.” 

In the Ramblers’ first match of the season and Hinchman’s first after her diagnosis, she notched her 1000th career dig. Berkley said the accomplishment is a testament to Hinchman’s hard work throughout her years on the team. 

“I’m just really proud of how she’s developed each year,” Berkley said. “It’s not shocking that she got her 1000th dig as a junior. She’s an awesome, awesome player and we’re really lucky to have her.” 

In the months leading up to the season and following the diagnosis, Hinchman said she’s learned to not take anything for granted and that life is a blessing. She’s come closer to her faith, saying she knows it’s a miracle how well she’s doing. She said she thanks God every morning for another day, something she knows can never be guaranteed. This knowledge and emotion had spread throughout her team as well. 

Hinchman said it’s a blessing to be surrounded by a team full of her best friends who’ve rallied around her during her recovery. She hopes, at the end of the season, they can look back and be proud of how they handled not only this situation but all hardships they’ve faced this season. 

This season, Hinchman said she’s looking forward to playing because it’s something she thought she would never do again. 

“The little things that I thought were a big deal before just aren’t in the grand scheme of things,” she said. “If we lose a game, that doesn’t matter. In a couple years, no one’s gonna remember that.” 

The Ramblers (6-7) begin conference play on Sept. 23 when they travel to Washington, D.C. to face George Washington University in the team’s first-ever Atlantic 10 matchup. First serve is at 5 p.m. and the broadcast information has yet to be announced.

Featured image courtesy of Steve Woltmann | Loyola Athletics

Gabbi Lumma

Gabbi Lumma