NORFOLK, Va. -- Norfolk State forward Amber Brown is no longer in a coma, and her family is grateful for what they call a miracle.
"I feel like a huge burden has been lifted, a big hurdle has been jumped," Amber's mother, Coretta Brown, said. "She's still critical, but not day-to-day touch and go, so that has let me breathe again. I am so grateful for what God has done."
When Amber Brown, 19, was discovered by a teammate on the floor of her dorm on Jan. 1, her heartbeat was faint and her body cold. The Type 1 diabetic suffered a stroke after her blood sugar spiked to 1,400 and went into cardiac arrest three times on New Year's Day -- once as long as 20 minutes at Sentara Norfolk Heart Hospital.
Continuous brain seizures forced physicians to induce a medical coma for several days, but medications were ceased a week ago, and her family has waited for Amber to wake up.
On Wednesday, she did.
Amber's eyes opened for the first time last week, but starting on Tuesday, Coretta noticed additional eye movement.
"She started rolling her eyes and blinking them," she said.
Ebony Brown, who played alongside Amber for two seasons before graduating from NSU last year, said she began asking her sister more direct questions.
"I would talk to her and tell her if she understood me to squeeze my hand," Ebony said, "She started doing it. We have our own special communication.
"We asked her what was one plus one, and it took her a while, but she held up two fingers. She didn't know her last name was Brown, but she knows us, and we know she is thinking."
Progress remains slow, but signs of any recovery a week ago were grim.
Doctors weren't optimistic, but Coretta Brown, who flew in from her home in Atlanta, maintained a vigil by Amber's bedside for the past two weeks. She has asked for continuous prayer for her daughter, who is a junior psychology major and reserve for the Spartans, one of two winless teams in the nation.
The hashtag #PrayForAmber has grown on Twitter, and a Supporting Amber Facebook page gives updates on her progress.
Amber is able to breathe on her own at times but still needs a ventilator for assistance. A temperature resulting from pneumonia has continued to decline, and she has been able to sit up in a cardiac chair minus the breathing tubes for short periods of time, forcing her lungs to get stronger.
Both physical and occupational therapists have made visits and started rehab on Thursday.
Coretta said the medical staff at the hospital has a whole new mindset.
"They really are baffled," she said. "They're shocked. Their prognosis before was really not good."
What, if any, brain damage Amber suffered won't be clear until she is able to be fully assessed, which could be a matter of weeks.
Less than a year ago, Amber discovered she had Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition in which the pancreas fails to make insulin, a hormone needed to allow glucose to enter cells to produce energy. Type 1 diabetes has no cure but can be managed by closely monitoring blood-sugar levels.
The cause of Amber's diabetic stroke remains unknown. A blood clot discovered in her brain could have caused the rise in her blood sugar.
The Browns say they understand the road ahead will be challenging, but they feel so much good has already happened that they remain positive.
"My mom has her daughter back; I have my sister back," Ebony said. "We're preparing ourselves to be there for whatever she needs. She's going to need 24-hour assistance. But I'd rather have a long road than no road at all."