Former Olympic gymnast and Season 27 Dancing with the Stars contestant Mary Lou Retton sat down with Today Show co-host Hoda Kotb this morning, where she detailed her traumatic hospital stay after being diagnosed with a rare, near-fatal form of pneumonia in October.
Retton, who is now breathing with the help of oxygen after her illness, admitted that she is “very private,” so the interview was “different” from her previous, more light-hearted talks with the press.
“This is serious, and this is life,” she continued. “And I am so grateful to be here. I am blessed to be here because there was a time where they were about to put me on life support.”
She recalled getting her nails done with her oldest daughter, Shayla Schrepfer, just a day before her hospitalization. While Retton noted that she was “feeling tired” that day, Schrepfer, who was alongside her mother for the interview, added that she was “very out of breath.” The following day, Retton had planned to meet her daughters at a football game in Dallas, in which her youngest daughter Emma’s boyfriend was playing, but she didn’t make it.
“I couldn’t,” she shared. “I literally was laying on my bedroom floor and I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I didn’t know what was wrong with me.”
Retton, who said she’s “never had a lung issue in [her] life,” revealed she “couldn’t breathe,” and couldn’t “take that big deep breath,” which she still can’t do. Fortunately, her neighbor found her after seeing a car door ajar in her driveway.
“She came in the house,” Retton said. “She knows my code, and saw me and found me. And Magda pretty much saved my life.”
Retton was then taken to a local emergency room, where she was diagnosed with pneumonia but released after a few days. Schrepfer found her mother nearly unresponsive the day after her release. After being rushed to another hospital, Retton was admitted to the ICU, where she said she was “tested for everything” — COVID-19, flu, RSV — but “everything [came back] negative.”
Retton and Schrepfer said that doctors were considering putting her on a ventilator because of her low oxygen levels, and requested that Emma come to the hospital where her three sisters were because they didn’t know if Retton would “make it through the night.”
Retton shared, “They were saying their goodbyes to me,” as Schrepfer recalled praying alongside her sister over their mother’s bed.
The doctors opted to “pump high-flow oxygen through her nose,” which proved to be effective. Retton spent a month in the hospital as her lungs healed.
Schrepfer deemed her mother “a fighter,” calling her both “the one-in-a-million that wins the Olympics,” and “the one-in-a-million that will get some rare form of pneumonia that you have no idea what it is, but she’ll make it through.”
Meanwhile, Retton expressed gratitude for those who have shown their support both financially and through prayers, especially as she “couldn’t afford” health insurance. She said, “I just thought I was a washed-up, old athlete, but the love was just — it touched me.”
She also highlighted that she’s “not great yet,” and that “it’s going to be a very long road” to recovery. Still, she added, “But you have no idea how blessed and how grateful I was for this holiday season.”
Watch Retton’s Today Show interview above.