Inside the fight to keep Art Hains, beloved voice of the Missouri State Bears, alive (2024)

On a September night in 2022, Art Hains sat outside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, with his radio equipment at his side. "The Voice of the Bears" had just completed calling one of the more memorable games of his legendary broadcasting career.

Missouri State, under Bobby Petrino in his return to Fayetteville, went toe-to-toe with the nationally-ranked Hogs. The Bears were up by 10 at one point in the fourth quarter but couldn't hold on. Still, it only made the longtime play-by-play voice of MSU athletics more excited for the season ahead.

“I was proud of them,” Hains said. “If there was such thing as a moral victory, that was it.”

Little did Hains know, as he sat outside the stadium waiting for his ride, that the game he had called would be the last one he'd call for more than a year. Since that 38-27 loss, Hains was diagnosed with a rare virus and he and his family were told he wouldn't survive.

Over a year later, he has overcome the odds and will return to the Plaster Stadium booth on Saturday afternoon to call Missouri State football's home opener against Utah Tech.

"Looking back, I'm very blessed to still be here," Hains said.

What led Art Hains to go to the hospital

Just over a year ago, Hains waited outside Razorback Stadium as his color analyst, former Missouri State football player Dennis Heim, hustled to a parking lot to retrieve the car. The radio equipment was too heavy to haul blocks away.

Once he got to the car, Heim called Hains to tell him he was stuck in the postgame traffic and he'd be a while. In order to save some time, Hains got up and headed that way. Happy it was down a hill, Hains carried the equipment until he found a bike taxi to take him to Heim. The two met but still couldn't get out of the parking lot so they got out of the car and walked across the street to get a bite to eat.

Hains started to notice his legs felt weak but he didn't think much of it. He thought carrying the radio equipment as far as he did could have caused him fatigue. They were weak enough that he asked Heim to drive the two back to Springfield even though Hains was always the driver.

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“He didn’t really express anything much about pain or anything,” Heim said. “There was something bothering him but I didn’t know what it was. Obviously at the time he didn’t know what it was either.”

The following day, Hains didn't have his typical Sunday Kansas City Chiefs gameday host duties after the eventual Super Bowl champs rallied from down 10 to beat the Los Angeles Chargers the previous Thursday. Instead, he went to the doctor suspecting that he had kidney stones that had caused some problems since he worked through them and called Missouri State football's home playoff game in November months before. After six hours at the doctor, he was told that he didn't have a kidney stone and he was sent home with his legs feeling a bit wobbly.

On that Monday, Hains still wasn't feeling his best. He called out of his afternoon radio show and visited an athletic trainer at Missouri State and went back to the doctor. He complained of pain in his legs and he threw up because of it. The doctor suspected a tick bite and Hains was sent home with medicine for it that evening.

Hains developed a fever. Lisa Hains, Art's wife, was in the kitchen making him a milkshake and a scrambled egg before she heard her husband call for her. He told her that he couldn't use his legs when trying to get up to use the restroom. Lisa called for an ambulance.

When he arrived at CoxHealth, Art Hains had to wait in the waiting room. He was in a chair and wanted to move to a couch. Lisa Hains wheeled him over to where it was and he tried to move from the wheelchair to the couch but instead fell flat on his face. Doctors immediately rushed over to get him the assistance he needed.

Lisa Hains called her son, Chris Hains, late that night who thought they could be overreacting. When he talked to his dad on the phone the next morning on his way to work in the Kansas City area, Chris could hear the fear in his dad's voice. Without doing any packing, Chris turned the car around and drove straight to Springfield.

When Art Hains' health started to quickly deteriorate

The day after Art's arrival, he seemed to be fine. Chris and his sister, Kathleen Hains, got out their laptops and hung out with their dad for most of the day. Art underwent a few tests including an MRI and spinal tap but Chris thought by Tuesday night that he'd return to Kansas City the following morning.

But Art's health quickly started to deteriorate.

Chris went to check on his dad on Wednesday with the intention of driving home. Instead, he found doctors feeding Art breakfast because he lost feeling in his arms. The paralysis from his legs was working its way up his entire body.

"That's when I was like 'Oh boy, this is really serious," Chris said.

By the afternoon, doctors believed there was a chance his lungs could shut down.

CoxHealth Infectious Disease Doctor Syed Naqvi was informed of Art's arrival because he was showing neurological signs and there was some concern of a brain infection.

Naqvi awaited the results of Art's spinal tap to gain a better idea of what was happening. Naqvi and other doctors thought broadly about what was wrong with Art and what could be done. Initially, doctors thought Art had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disease that impacts about 3,000 to 6,000 people each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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"In medicine, we start with a very broad differential as we get the diagnostic testing back," Naqvi said. "We reach a conclusive test based on the workup we've received. Some of his presenting complaints and some of the diagnostic imaging findings were concerning. Some of the symptoms of West Nile virus can look like Guillain-Barre, especially with the neurological symptoms. Certainly, from day one, we suspected that was a possibility."

Art was later moved to the ICU where he was eventually placed on a ventilator because of the weakness in his respiratory muscles. Late in the week, Art was in a state of coma that lasted several weeks.

"Once I got to Cox, I have very little memory," Art said. "I have very, very little memory of anything that happened there."

There were little moments when the Hains family thought Art was turning a corner. Missouri State head men's basketball coach Dana Ford visited one night and seemingly got a smile out of him. The oxygen level needed through the ventilator was promising at times. Chris and Kathleen thought he was doing well enough for the two to get a breath of fresh air and drive to Plaster Stadium for Missouri State's big conference matchup with South Dakota State.

On their drive to the stadium, the two, along with Chris' wife, turned the radio on and heard their dad's voice. They heard the excitement and passion he brought to every call. Chris and Kathleen broke down in tears for the first time.

"We just had that hard moment just knowing that he wasn't doing it," Chris said.

Missouri State hung around with eventual-national-champion South Dakota State in one of the biggest regular season Bears football games on the Springfield campus in decades. The Jackrabbits led the Bears 14-0 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter before MSU tied the game before heading into the fourth.

More:Wheeler: As Art Hains lies in a hospital bed, we should all strive to be a little more like him

As the Bears began to fall apart in the fourth quarter of a game in which SDSU won 28-14, the Hains family in attendance had to leave. Their mom called to inform them that Art had to be on 100% oxygen on the ventilator and that they needed to get over there quickly.

Art pulled through but his test results from his spinal tap were in that night. The Hains family was informed that Art was diagnosed with West Nile virus.

How Art Hains might have gotten West Nile

Naqvi considered it could be West Nile from the start as he watched the weakness in Hains' body ascend.

He and his colleagues at CoxHealth had to wait for the spinal tap. The cerebrospinal fluids were put through various tests for different infections and viruses. A serological test looked for the antibodies' responses that Hains' body made which led them to discover West Nile virus.

West Nile virus is one in a broad category of what doctors call Japanese encephalitis — viruses that cause inflammation to the central nervous system including the brain and spinal cord. The RNA virus is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito. Symptoms can start to show during an incubation period anywhere between two days and two weeks.

Hains rarely got mosquito bites but his wife remembered him having a big one on the back of his leg around the time. No one knows when it would have happened — perhaps it was while he was out mowing the lawn, the family thought.

A fever is a common symptom and can also include a rash, which Hains had both. People above the age of 50 are most at risk of complications. Severe symptoms can include paralysis, altered mental status, seizures and others.

According to the CDC, only 13 people from Missouri were diagnosed with West Nile in 2022. It reported that 854 people were hospitalized and 90 out of 1,126 cases passed away.

In Hains' case, his odds appeared to be slim.

"If you had asked me at that time, I would tell you that it would have really depended on how things clinically go because even doing that supportive care, you can have complications by being in the hospital and running the risk for other problems," Naqvi said. "Really, it's a day-by-day assessment of how things are going at the time."

The Hains family was told that Art wasn't going to make it

The Sunday morning after receiving Art's diagnosis was a moment that will stay with the Hains family forever.

"It... it was just that he was so bad," Lisa said.

The Hains family arrived at CoxHealth wondering what the plan was going to be for Art's next steps. Chris immediately noticed that Art's pulmonologist was "kind of down" whereas other mornings he sounded more optimistic. He called in a neurologist who explained to the family that the mortality rate for West Nile was extremely high and that Art's chances for recovery were low.

A nurse walked in and said they were sending in the chaplains. By that time, the family thought that it was the end.

"Mom was losing it in front of everyone and I didn't know how to comfort her because I was starting to lose it," Kathleen said. "I didn't know what to do. Everyone was asking me why I wasn't showing emotion and I was just trying to stay strong and keep it level-headed. The minute I lose it, that's gonna be it for me and that's what happened."

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"Mom practically fainted and she and Kathleen were just inconsolable," Chris said. "There were a lot of people there who kind of consoled my mom and got her a blanket and laid her down."

"I didn't think he would make it," Lisa said. "But then, something came over me and I knew he would."

Chris never gave up hope. He asked the neurologist and asked what he would do if his dad was in the same shoes.

"I just kind of immediately went to these people, it wasn't that I didn't think they knew what they were doing but 'I'm not going to take that for an answer," Chris said.

The race was on to see if Art could be moved elsewhere for a second opinion.

How the Kansas City Chiefs helped save Art Hains' life

That afternoon, Art's beloved Kansas City Chiefs played their worst game of the season in Indianapolis against the Colts. Indianapolis scored a go-ahead touchdown on a 16-play, 76-yard drive that ate up more than eight minutes of the clock leaving the Chiefs with 24 seconds. Down three, Patrick Mahomes couldn't make his patented magic happen as he threw an interception with two seconds left to fall 20-17.

"It was awful," Kathleen said. "It was just a bad Art Hains day."

Back in Springfield, Chris wasn't giving up hope. He and others worked their phones wondering what the next best option would be. Chris was told to either move him to the Washington University Medical Center in St. Louis or, preferably, the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City.

Chris knew he'd have the support from those in the hospital to have him airlifted wherever he was needed. CoxHealth Board of Directors chair Rob Fulp asked Chris if there was any chance that Chiefs Radio Network would somehow assist. Throwing a Mahomes-like Hail Mary, Chris shot a text to those he knew were coming down from a disappointing loss.

Chiefs Radio Network executive producer Dan Israel was first contacted by Chris that morning. Throughout the broadcast, he would exchange texts with Chris and fill in Chiefs play-by-play voice Mitch Holthus on the latest developments. There weren't any beds available at KU Med and Chris asked Israel if there was anything the Chiefs could do since the hospital is the official healthcare provider of the team.

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Israel thought of his own medical situation. With Stage 4 colon cancer, Israel, too, had been told many times during his battle that he only had so long to live. Upon his initial diagnosis in 2015, Israel told himself that he refused to accept that his days were limited. He told Chris that he shouldn't accept the same fate for his father.

When the final whistle was blown, Israel rushed down to the locker room to find Dr. Mike Monaco, the Chiefs' head team physician. Israel filled Monaco in on the situation and the doctor sprung into action.

"He basically told me 'We're going to take care of him,'" Israel said. "They did that with basically the feeling that Art was a member of the Kansas City Chiefs and we weren't going to let him not have the best care that they could give."

Monaco was quickly on the phone trying to get Art's health treated as if he were a starter on the football field. He got Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan involved who was quickly on the phone with KU Med President Bob Page.

A spot at KU Med was made for Art. He was on a helicopter to Kansas City before the Chiefs returned from Indianapolis.

"They got him in," Chris said. "We went to get dinner late that night and we got back when they were loading him up. It was a pretty special moment."

Move to KU Medical Center gave the Hains family hope

Chris arrived at KU Med the next morning. The first thing that met him was a neurological team which included the main neurologist, "a bunch of students," and a pulmonary team.

Not once in the conversations about Art did his son hear anyone saying that he wasn't going to make it. Instead, they kept faith that he would one day recover.

"I remember one doctor telling me very direct saying 'I believe he's going to make it,'" Chris said. "But 'we're not talking about weeks. We're talking about months and possibly years.' I couldn't believe it was going to take that long."

The Hains family made the difficult choice of signing off on doctors inserting a tracheostomy. They were afraid of potential vocal issues if he was to recover when he used his iconic voice for a living. Doctors convinced the family it was the right call.

Art went through different tests. Some were effective, some weren't. He eventually showed signs of life by squeezing a hand. Other moments saw some episodes where his breathing would drop and the ventilator would need to be cranked up.

The family never stressed about the care Art received as they began to build up hope with his bits of progress. However, insurance started to become an issue when he had been in the ICU between Kansas City and Springfield for about a month.

A move was needed which caused the family to start looking elsewhere.

Art's road to recovery in Nebraska wasn't easy

Chris was back to working the phone as he sought the best possible care. He looked into different facilities in Springfield but thought otherwise. The Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, came highly recommended by some who believed it could help Art continue his recovery.

The family saw some improvements during the stay. By Thanksgiving, Kathleen said she felt like she had her dad back as he was out of his coma and knew what was going on. The family spent the holiday in Lincoln where Art became aware of how the Chiefs' season was going and how Missouri State's football season went downhill. Lisa never left his side for the entirety of his Nebraska stay while Chris and Kathleen made the trip constantly.

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Getting Art into Madonna proved to be difficult. Chris believed Madonna viewed Art as a high-risk patient and didn't want anything to happen to him on their watch. The hospital ultimately took Art in October which is where he stayed until around mid-January.

More:Wheeler: In a Nebraska hospital, Art Hains reminds us that 'every day is a gift'

Over the several months, Art's health complications were constant. Frequently, he caught pneumonia and needed high oxygen on his ventilator. At one point, he had a blockage in his intestines causing abdominal problems. He had about a foot of his intestines removed. At another point, Art needed a pacemaker when his heart rate dropped to around the 30s.

The stretch between Christmas and New Year's Day was rough. Art was out of his coma but having trouble with memory. He was weak and didn't even know it was the holiday. Once again, it wasn't looking good.

"One night, he was so bad," Lisa said. "I began to doubt he was going to make it because they were telling us all this crap. I remembered that I called out to God and I said 'Please save this wonderful man.'

"And he did it. That's a true story. I felt him with me."

Art Hains saw progress after moving down the street

The Hains family never felt like Art was welcome at Madonna. Art was told by someone at the hospital he calls "the angel of death" that he needed to get his affairs in order. Art told her to get out and that he wasn't going to hear it.

"I'm going to make it," Art told her.

Insurance, again, stepped in and forced the Hains family to make another move. The family feared Art would be moved into a nursing home where he wouldn't be checked on and wouldn't receive the rehab work he needed. They also wanted a facility that could someday work him off the ventilator.

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Insurance pushed Art down the road from Madonna to Ambassador Health in Lincoln. The facility was "more than a nursing home" as it specialized in post-hospital rehabilitation and extended skilled nursing care. It could someday allow Art to move off the ventilator with the goal of moving back to Springfield.

On the first night, a stubborn Art told doctors that he didn't want to be on the ventilator at all and he went cold turkey. He made it through the night. And then the next night. And then he got caught.

From then on, Art was weaned off the ventilator which took about a week.

From then on, he has been off the ventilator.

"I was at a loss for words," Kathleen said. "He was super happy at Ambassador."

Art continued his progress at Ambassador where he watched the Kansas City Chiefs, the team that helped save his life, beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl from his bed with Lisa at his side. Elsewhere, Chris shed a tear knowing how much that moment had to mean to his dad who had been through so much.

More:During MSU game at Arch Madness, Art Hains made 1st radio appearance since hospitalization

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Friends continued to visit as he regained some movement in his arms. The Missouri State Lady Bears played a WNIT Postseason Tournament game in Lincoln against the Cornhuskers. The Ambassador loaded Art up and took him to the arena where he attended his first Missouri State athletics event since he was diagnosed.

The next goal was to move back to Springfield. Getting off the ventilator was his biggest hurdle to clear to continue his rehab elsewhere. Lisa, who stayed in a Lincoln Airbnb throughout the entire stay and adopted a puppy to keep her company, wanted to go home.

But one more complication got in the way.

About three weeks before Art's move back to Springfield, he ran a bit of a fever and wanted to go to bed. Lisa was leaving for the night when she stopped by the front desk. She ran into an Ambassador respiratory therapist who was starting to walk to his car to go home but he suddenly had a feeling that he needed to run back in and check on Art.

When he got to Art's room, he found that Art's blood pressure had plummeted and his heart rate was off. Everything was going downhill. Art was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with sepsis.

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"He saved his life," Lisa said.

According to the CDC, sepsis is defined as the body's extreme response to an infection. At least 350,000 out of 1.7 million adults in America who develop sepsis each year die or are discharged to hospice.

But Art beat it and quickly recovered. By May, Art had a spot reserved at Springfield Rehabilitation and Health Care Center and was ready to come home.

Art Hains is home

In a motorized wheelchair, Hains sat in the back of a van making his first ride back to Springfield on May 24. The Bears were playing in the Missouri Valley Conference Baseball Tournament that night and it, somehow, seemed to be what was on his mind.

As the door opened and he was loading off his transport, his first words back in Ozarks air were: "Who do the Bears play tonight?" His voice, strong as ever, was back where he belonged.

Since then, Art has continued his recovery. He has daily rehab sessions trying to regain full use of his arms. He's still unable to walk but has shown steady improvement since the day he returned.

Art spent the summer doing some of the things he loves. His first meal was cashew chicken, he visited with friends who often stopped by his facility and eventually found transportation to attend a few of the events he loves.

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Art made frequent appearances at Tent Theatre on Missouri State's campus, where he supported Kathleen as she mentored different stage managers. During his first appearance, he received a standing ovation.

In early August, Art appeared at Missouri State athletics' annual Sneaker Soiree where he became the main attraction. Early on, he mentioned that he wanted to get food but the line to talk to him was long enough to where he couldn't make a break for a slice of pizza. At the function, he was handed a microphone to which he surprisingly announced that he was going to return to the booth and call play-by-play for Missouri State this season to which he received a lengthy standing ovation.

"Being home has done him a million times good," Lisa said.

Art's progression allowed him to return to doing the gameday radio host broadcasts for the Kansas City Chiefs. With Kathleen and Chris assisting, they helped him return to the air for the team's first preseason game without a hitch. For those listening over the airwaves, they wouldn't have been able to tell what he had been through over the previous year. It sounded like the professional voice of Art Hains that fans had grown to love and respect.

"I'm glad he had a four-and-a-half minute segment because it was kind of hard to settle my emotions down," Israel, the Chiefs Radio Network executive producer, said. "I can only imagine what his family must have thought. All of the listeners only know part of what he's gone through. When you almost lose someone like that, you really take stock and take account for what they meant to you."

Others have helped in previous weeks. Kathleen and Lisa have always been there in the room to support him, even when Lisa thought he was getting ahead of himself by getting back on the air. Art didn't allow people doubting his survival to get to him. There was no way he was going to allow his family's doubts about his return to radio to hold him back either.

The Voice of the Bears will return on Saturday

Inside the fight to keep Art Hains, beloved voice of the Missouri State Bears, alive (10)

Sitting in his wheelchair wearing a Missouri State polo on Wednesday night, Art sat in front of a crowd at BigShots Golf and interviewed Missouri State head football coach Ryan Beard ahead of Saturday's home opener.

Transportation and accessibility needs haven't allowed Art to call games on the road when he's been bound to his wheelchair. While conducting Missouri State's weekly coaches show, Art held a few fingers over a bandage on his throat. The next step in his recovery, the removal of his tracheostomy, took place the day before. The small hole on his neck will heal in the next few days and should be good by kickoff.

Art's voice sounded as good as ever.

Missouri State has taken extra steps to ensure Art can see in the press box when he goes on the air before Saturday's 2 p.m. game against Utah Tech. He has a perch that will allow him to see the whole field and call games alongside his friend Corey Riggs, who kept Art's seat warm while filling in for the majority of his play-by-play duties as he recovered.

Kathleen will be in the booth offering any assistance needed. Lisa and Chris will be elsewhere with their radios on.

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There will be tears for the family that, at times, never thought the moment would come again.

"I don't know how he did it," Lisa said. "God got him through it."

"I'll be up in that booth there just crying," Kathleen said. "I'll just be so excited and happy. It's what he loves to do."

"I will certainly not have dry eyes during that opening," Chris said. "I'm excited to hear it."

The Voice of the Bears will be back on the air.

"That's going to be terrific," Art said. "That's one of the things that's motivated me was to get back in that booth. It's on the verge of happening and I'm pretty excited about that."

How to listen to Art Hains call Missouri State's home opener vs. Utah Tech on Saturday

  • When: Pregame begins at 1:30 p.m.
  • Radio: KWTO FM 101.3
  • Stream
  • Streaming app: The Varsity Network

Disclaimer: News-Leader sports reporter Wyatt Wheeler, the author of this story, worked with Art for two years as his co-host on their afternoon sports radio talk show. Wheeler considers Hains one of his best friends.

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email atwwheeler@news-leader.comor X at@WyattWheeler_NL. He's also the host of the weekly "Wyatt's World Podcast" on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms.

Inside the fight to keep Art Hains, beloved voice of the Missouri State Bears, alive (2024)
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