Tadpole's Outdoor Blog

July 22, 2012

“NADIA” BY: NEAL MURPHY – July 22, 2012





Not many times in one’s life does an opportunity to meet someone of notability arise.  Even when it does arise, the circumstances cannot match those of my wife, Clara, who met such a person in 1979.  We were living in Ft. Worth, Texas at the time.  Clara was working as an office nurse for a noted hand surgeon, Dr. Bobby Wroten in the medical center area.

On a Wednesday afternoon in December her office received an urgent call from the emergency room of All Saint’s Episcopal Hospital located nearby.  It seems that a young female gymnast had injured her hand and Dr. Wroten’s services were needed.  When Clara asked the patient’s name she was surprised to hear the answer, Nadia Comaneci.

Nadia was a Romanian gymnast in town to participate in the World Gymnastic competition being held at the Coliseum that week.  Nadia was eighteen years old and had already won numerous gold medals at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.  She was the first female gymnast ever to be awarded a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic gymnastic event.  She went on to win two gold medals at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow.

Clara was thrilled when Dr. Wroten asked if she wanted to accompany him to the hospital, although it was now past their five o’clock quitting time.  Upon arrival they noted that the Emergency Room crew had congregated at the entrance to the emergency room area trying to get a glimpse of Nadia.  Little did Clara realize that she was about to enter the strange world of the communists Romanian people.

Clara and the doctor entered the room in which Nadia had been placed on an examination table.  She was shocked to see how thin and gaunt this young gymnast had become.  Dr. Wroten examined her hand and asked questions through an interpreter.  He learned that when she had arrived in town she had a small pustule on the top of her hand which had been treated by the Romanian doctor with an injection.  It had not helped, and her hand had become quite swollen.

Dr. Wroten diagnosed her problem as cellulitis, an inflammation of the cellular tissue, and ordered hospital admission and intravenous antibiotics for her.  An imposing man at the scene was assumed to be her coach, Bela Karolyi.  It seems that his permission was required in order to treat Nadia.

Clara and the ER nurse began to undress the gymnast in order to get her in the notorious hospital gown.  Clara made a comment about how thin Nadia was.  “She looks almost gaunt”.  At that point the patient said in perfect English, “Will you stay with me in the hospital?”  Clara had to ask for help in getting her foot out of her mouth.  Nadia stated further that her trainers allowed her to have only one large meal every other evening.  She expressed hope that this was her night to eat.

After being admitted to the hospital Clara came home very excited to have met the famous gymnast.  The next day the office crew decided to send Nadia a bouquet of flowers to show their concern.  Clara took the flowers to the hospital but found Nadia’s room almost sealed off from visitors by her entourage.  After the guards examined the flowers carefully, Clara was allowed in to see Nadia.  She found her excited because she had eaten a dozen Dixie Cups of ice cream during the night, a treat unavailable to her in Romania.

Great pressure was applied to Dr. Wroten to dismiss Nadia from hospital care long enough for her to perform at Thursday night’s contest.  He relented only after Nadia’s coaches agreed to bring her back to the hospital after her performance.

Clara and I acquired tickets and attended the event and watched Nadia score a 9.95 on the balance beam.  She did not compete in the floor exercise or the parallel bars due to her swollen hand.  It was there that we saw the real Bela Karolyi.  The other man was in reality a Romanian government official who was making sure that Nadia did not defect to the United States.

Friday morning Dr. Wroten was notified that Nadia had not returned to the hospital after her performance as promised.  Thus, a search was begun for her by Clara and Dr. Wroten.  The hospital nurses advised them that Nadia had expressed a desire to purchase several pair of blue jeans to take back with her to Romania.  Clara raced to the Tandy Center to see if she was there, and Dr. Wroten began making calls.  He received a tip that Nadia had been taken to a hotel in downtown Ft. Worth and was in hiding.  He located her room and argued with the Romanian doctor about re-admitting her to the hospital for necessary surgery on her inflamed hand.  After explaining that she could lose her life if not treated properly, the Romanian authorities finally agreed.  She took off her Mickey Mouse pajamas, dressed, and was driven back to the hospital.

Dr. Wroten performed the minor surgery and inserted a drain in her grossly edematous hand.  She now needed time and rest in order for her hand to heal.  This was not to be.  Against medical advice, Nadia was released to the care of her Romanian doctor and returned to her home in Onesti, Romania.

After the surgery, news media including ABC Wide World of Sports were at the hospital for news of Nadia.

Dr. Wroten was worried about his famous patient and corresponded with her over a several months period.  She did heal well from her surgery in spite of the unfavorable circumstances.

Nadia and her coaches defected to the United States in 1981.  She married Bart Conner, a gymnast, in Bucharest in 1996.  They now live in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Clara’s experience with this famous person was more like an episode from a James Bond movie, and one she will never forget.


Clara and Dr. Bobby Wroten






PO BOX 511




Email: sugarbear@netdot.com


1 Comment »

  1. Thank you for sharing the interesting story. Just a minor comment ; her coach defected in 1981, not Nadia. She did it 8 years later , in Nov. 1989

    Comment by Magda Petrescu — September 26, 2016 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

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