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After a long illness, she's got her bounce back

By sports standards, it wasn't a big deal: just another game of volleyball between friends. They didn't even play by the rules: 12 people on each side, no spiking and even the out-of-bounds lines were flexible.

But Sue McAvoy was still nervous. She worried about her stamina, how she would hold up after nearly 15 months of just sitting around. She worried that she'd forget someone's name, maybe their face. She was worried about medications, side effects, even a little about who she was.

And she had one bigger worry: that someone might throw an elbow square into her brand new kidney.

"You wouldn't think so," said McAvoy, 45. "But these games sometimes get a little out of hand."

Before her kidneys failed, the Palm Harbor woman played volleyball with the same friends once, sometimes twice a week for more than nine years. It was a social thing, she said. Nobody ever kept score.

But in October 2003, a condition called pyelonephritis killed her kidneys, taking with them her job, her ability to exercise, much of her social life and certainly her volleyball game _ at least for awhile.

After eight months of dialysis, McAvoy's sister, Karen Kruse, donated her kidney in June. The need for a transplant didn't sneak up on the family. McAvoy was diagnosed with the disease when she was 21 and a relative's kidney is often the best match.

"I was so worried about her," McAvoy said of her sister. "I would just pray that if something's going to happen, let it happen to me and not to her. It was just a long summer."

McAvoy has recovered quickly from the kidney transplant, she said. But she has since spent much of her time feeling sick, tired and bored.

So Wednesday night's volleyball game was her comeback. It was going to be her most active night in more than a year, she said, and the closest thing to normal she'd felt in a long time.

She bought new shoes for the occasion: white Avia sneakers with dark trim. And when she walked into Countryside Recreation Center at 6:50 p.m., about 30 of her friends met her with a cascade of applause.

They hugged her, smiled and behind her back poked fun at her frog phobia. And then they tossed her the white volleyball, giving her the first serve.

"To see her make a comeback is really something," her friend David Vogel said. "Everybody loves her."

McAvoy said the last 15 months have left her worried and confused. Her life doesn't feel the same. She is married now, so she doesn't have as much to do around the house. She isn't working, although she hopes to start again soon. And she doesn't know how long her kidney will last.

"I think the hardest part is just having to redefine myself," she said. "You tend to lose who you were (by) going through something like that."

But Wednesday night, that didn't matter. Amid laughter and applause, her first serve sailed widely to the left and out of bounds. But her friends gave her another shot.

So she took the ball, bounced it twice, dropped it in front of her and gave it an underhand whack.

It dropped in for an ace.