November 7, 2022
Reece Monaco is known throughout Wyoming as “the Voice of the Cowgirls and Cowboys” for his radio coverage of University of Wyoming athletics. He was the play-by-play announcer for Cowgirl Basketball for 19 seasons before being asked to do the play-by-plays for UW Men’s Basketball in 2020-21. He became the “Voice of Cowboys Football” this year after legendary announcer Dave Walsh retired. A long-time sportscaster and news director for KFBC and the Cowboy State News Network, Reece is passionate about his work. He has been selected by his peers as the Wyoming Sportscaster of the Year five times. “I’ve been at this a long time,” Reece said recently. “It’s a privilege to be able to do what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
But last spring, a serious health scare made Reece wonder if this dream job, one that he had worked to build for more than 30 years, might be in jeopardy.
‘I felt like I was moving in slow motion.’
Reece was at the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Dayton, OH, getting ready to cover the University of Wyoming’s first-round game against Indiana.
The night before the game, Reece became “violently ill.” When he woke up the next morning, he had what he describes as “an incredible” headache. He texted his wife, Stephanie, to let her know what was happening.
“I was having a hard time texting Steph,” he said. “It was like I was moving in slow motion.”
Reece went on to announce the first part of the game but eventually had to stop due the intensity of the headache and how it was affecting him.
Meanwhile, Stephanie was in contact with both Reece and his colleagues at the tournament. EMTs at the arena checked Reece to be sure he wasn’t having problems with his diabetes and to see if he was dehydrated.
“It was hard not to worry,” Stephanie said. “I knew something was wrong. He was in a lot of pain and wasn’t himself.”
Due to a flight delay, it would be 48 hours from the onset of Reece’s symptoms before he was back home in Cheyenne.
“I had contacted our primary care doctor to see about getting Reece into their office right away, but there weren’t any times available,” Stephanie said. “The doctor sent us a message that Reece needed to go to the ER.”
Stephanie was worried that Reece might not go to the hospital. “He isn’t a big fan of going to any hospital,” she said.
But Reece’s headache was so intense that he agreed to go with her to CRMC’s emergency department, to see if they could provide some relief.
“For Reece to go the ER meant that he was in a lot of pain. And it wasn’t letting up,” Stephanie said.
What the tests revealed
The first test, a CT scan, showed swelling and a possible mass in Reece’s brain.
Stephanie said she “freaked out” when she was told that the scan showed Reece might have a tumor.
Reece was groggy due to medications he’d been given, but he also recalls hearing the news and being worried.
The emergency department doctor treating Reece then ordered an MRI scan, which showed two blood clots in Reece’s brain.
“They told us that Reece had suffered a massive stroke,” Stephanie said. “That was a shock. He didn’t have any of the typical stroke symptoms. No drooping on one side of his face, or slurred speech or problems lifting an arm. None of that.”
Stephanie wondered if Reece might have had stroke symptoms the night he got so sick in Ohio. “But there was no one there to see them,” she said.
The MRI also showed that Reece had two dissections—or tears—in one of his carotid arteries, on the side of his neck.
“The vascular surgeon told us that these tears sometimes happen in trauma victims,” Stephanie said. “In Reece’s case, they could have been caused by the extreme vomiting.”
Reece was admitted to CRMC to treat the swelling in his brain and to ensure his condition didn’t get worse.
“Honestly, I didn’t want to be there,” Reece said of his 10-day hospital stay, including three days in the intensive care unit. “I wasn’t always at my best,” he added. “I would have preferred to be at home. But the doctors and the nurses and other staff were great to me and Steph.”
Reece would later develop a third blood clot in his brain that triggered a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which can cause symptoms similar to those of a stroke.
Stephanie, who was at home with Reece during the TIA, immediately called 911. “He had some drooping in his face and slurred speech,” she said. “But he was starting to come out of it when the ambulance arrived, and his symptoms fully resolved within about an hour.”
Reece was evaluated and tested for what could have caused the blood clots by specialists at CRMC and Swedish Medical Center, via telehealth, in Denver. An exact cause could not be determined.
“One of the doctors refers to him as their ‘unicorn’ patient because of how unique his case is,” Stephanie said.
Following the stroke and TIA, Reece was advised to stay at home so that his brain could rest and recover. As a further precaution, he also told not to drive for three months or to lift anything heavy.
“I am used to doing what I want when I want,” Reece said. “Losing that sense of independence, that was really hard.”
To help with his recovery, occupational, physical and speech therapists from CRMC evaluated Reece and provided him with therapy. “They wanted to be sure I could function day to day and that I would be able to return to work,” Reece said.
Road to recovery
Recovery has been “a process,” Reece said from inside the KFBC studio, where he returned to work last summer. “At first I didn’t know if I would be able to do this again. There are definitely days when l feel kind of off. Mainly tired and feel like I need a nap.”
Another reason that recovery has been challenging, and sometimes frustrating, is because the kind of stroke that Reece experienced, without any noticeable physical side-effects, “is not something you can see,” he said. “If I had a cast on my arm, you could tell that I was hurt and that I was OK when the cast came off. You can’t see the problem when it’s this kind of stroke. It’s not outwardly detectable. There is no visual cue that you are fully recovered.”
Despite the challenges, both Stephanie and Reece are thankful that Reece has had an overall positive outcome.
“It could have been so much worse,” Reece said, especially given that the blood clots were in the part of his brain that controls speech.
“My voice and being able to process things fast, they are a huge part of who I am and what I do,” he said.
Getting ‘back to normal’
One of Reece’s first steps toward getting “back to normal” happened last spring, when he was able to work from home, recording newscasts for the station’s morning show. “It was good to be able to get back to work,” he said.
After receiving medical clearance, Reece was also encouraged to get fresh air and moderate exercise as part of recommended lifestyle changes that include following a healthy diet, taking prescribed medications and monitoring his diabetes.
“I golfed all summer with my granddaughter. She plays for the golf team at East,” he said. “That was a big motivator.”
Another significant step forward was when Reece returned to the press box in August to do his first season of play-by-plays for University of Wyoming football. Reece had formerly been the sideline reporter and pre-game host for Cowboys football. “This was something that I was really looking forward to,” he said.
Looking back, Reece said he is extremely thankful to Stephanie, “who has been amazing through all of this.”
The couple is also grateful to Reece’s radio and University of Wyoming athletics colleagues for their support and encouragement.
“They kept me posted when he was in Ohio,” Stephanie said. “And they have continued to be there for him.”
Reece and Stephanie are also thankful to the doctors, nurses, therapists and others who have treated him.
“They have been amazing to both Stephanie and me,” Reece said.
“The CRMC doctors and the one from Swedish that they conferenced with explained everything really well—what had happened and what they needed to do to help him,” Stephanie added. “Thanks to them, Reece is here sitting next to me today.”
Reece also has a message for anyone who is having a health emergency and is tempted to brush off their symptoms: “Don’t ignore it,” he said. “Get help. I might not be here today if I hadn’t gone to the hospital. I am really fortunate to be where I am right now.”