It was the third quarter of a big game against nationally-ranked Black Hills State University when Fort Lewis College women’s basketball assistant coach Orlando Griego got news no expecting parent wants to hear. His wife, Katherine Sumrall-Griego, was rushed to the hospital. She was 31 weeks pregnant.
Katherine was in attendance for the game. As soon as she sat in the bleachers behind the home bench inside Whalen Gymnasium, she knew something was wrong. She immediately left the game, and the coach knew something wasn’t right when he looked into the stands and didn’t see his wife.
“I looked up at halftime and knew something was up with my wife not being there. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but we needed to win this game,” Orlando said. “It’s the third quarter and we’re winning and play stops and my brother comes to me. He didn’t have a whole lot of information, but I could sense the urgency in his voice.”
Within hours of arriving at Mercy Regional Medical Center, Lana Griego was born, nine weeks before the expected delivery date.
“It was very scary,” Orlando said. “The next 48 to 72 hours was horrible, gut-wrenching, knowing that our daughter was fighting for her life.”
When Lana was delivered at 3.7 pounds, she was not breathing. She was given CPR for four minutes, and finally she took her first breath.
“It was all extremely traumatizing,” Katherine said. “It was such a state of shock. The first several minutes of her life were very critical. If it wasn’t for my delivering surgeon, our pediatrician and the whole team, Lana wouldn’t be here.”
Almost immediately, Lana and Orlando were flown to Children’s Hospital Colorado in Aurora, where they would stay through Christmas for four weeks. Once Katherine was released from Mercy, she joined her husband and daughter in Aurora.
“Our Christmas was away, but the sense of community support we had was amazing,” Orlando said. “The biggest thing for us was that our family was together. There were good days and bad days, but we were so happy and fortunate that all three of us were together.”
Lana continued care at Mercy upon her return to Durango and eventually was released home Jan. 28, 43 days after delivery. She remains on oxygen but has continued to hit progress milestones.
Katherine originally is from Georgetown, Texas. She attended Fort Lewis College and played volleyball under head coach Shelley Aaland until she graduated in 2010. It was while at FLC that she met Orlando, who is a native of Durango. He graduated from Durango High School in 2003 and played basketball under head coach Tim Fitzpatrick. Later, Orlando would join Fitzpatrick’s coaching staff when Fitzpatrick returned to coach the Demons’ girls team in 2014, seven years after he ended a 10-year run leading the DHS boys.
Before the 2018-19 season, FLC women’s basketball head coach Jason Flores added Orlando to his coaching staff as a volunteer assistant along with former Skyhawks player Mary Rambo, who is also expecting a child this spring.
Flores, who has two young daughters of his own, said the Griego family’s experience has brought perspective to a tough season for the Skyhawks on the court.
“It’s been a motivating factor to get through tough times,” Flores said. “When you have your own little girls, you thank God that they’re healthy and coming to games. Yeah, we can get disappointed with a loss, but Orlando is going to go home and hold his baby girl and things are going to be OK. I’m going to go home and think about that, lay in bed with our little girls and thank God that we’re in that position.”
Once the Griego family returned home to Durango, Flores and the FLC athletics department worked together to create a benefit game, which will be held Feb. 16 with home games against Dixie State. The FLC women will play at 5:30 p.m., followed by the men’s game at 7:30 p.m. Instead of selling game tickets, FLC will ask for donations to Griego family, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Lana’s continuing care. Flores said whether it’s a donation of $1 or $1,000, every bit will go to help.
“It’s shocking,” said Katherine, who is a real estate broker with Keller Williams. “It’s amazing to be part of a community that really does rally behind its people. We live in a special place. We’ve seen the humility of our community come out through other experiences with the community members and people in our network. When it becomes part of your world and you experience people reaching out of the blue to rally around you and support you, it’s quite amazing. I don’t think this happens anywhere else. It fills your heart to a degree that makes you extremely grateful for where we live in this community.
“My husband hasn’t been coaching with the college for very long at all. They accepted him immediately into their family, and that means a lot and shows leadership behind the basketball program for them to host this. It’s really special.”
Katherine and Lana won’t be able to attend Saturday’s benefit game. Flores hopes to see a packed gymnasium in honor of the two Skyhawks who can’t be there.
“Durango is a unique place. We have a great following in our programs and people that care,” Flores said. “It goes way beyond basketball, and I think we’re going to see Saturday just what Durango is about. It’s a tribute to Orlando and Katherine for making an impact in this community for a long time. They are good people, and it’s easy to come out and want to support that. Just come. That’s it. It’s doing right for good people.”