Mary Lou Retton says she has 'very long recovery' 7 months after hospital release

The Olympic legend and retired gymnast was in the ICU for two weeks last fall.

May 23, 2024, 12:22 PM

Mary Lou Retton is opening up about her health scare seven months after she was released from the hospital for severe pneumonia in October 2023.

"I still have a hard time breathing and getting breath to speak," Retton said in a new interview with "Entertainment Tonight," adding that she remains on supplemental oxygen for now. "I'm a speaker [and] I haven't been able to really work because I don't know if I can get up on stage and do an hourlong talk like I've normally done for 40 years. That's frustrating. It's been hard, I have to say."

PHOTO: Celebrities Visit SiriusXM - August 9, 2016
Gymnast Mary Lou Retton visits at SiriusXM Studio on August 9, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)
Ben Gabbe/Getty Images

The five-time Olympic medalist and former gymnastics star, 56, said her doctors "still don't know" what really happened to her back then when she was admitted into the intensive care unit for two weeks in the fall and that recently, she "had a bit of relapse awhile ago" but has bounced back. Retton also said she has "a very long recovery" ahead.

"They're calling it a rare form of pneumonia. But it didn't test thoroughly for anything bacterial, fungal, I mean, nothing," Retton continued, adding that she and her medical team consider her a "medical mystery."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pneumonia is a type of lung infection that can be caused by a variety of factors, such as bacteria, fungi, a parasite or a virus. Pneumonia can range in severity from mild to serious and can affect anyone, but children 5 and younger or adults 65 or older are at a higher risk of developing an infection. Other risk factors include smoking, excessive drinking, or having a pre-existing medical condition like diabetes or chronic heart, liver, or lung disease.

At one point, Retton said her condition deteriorated to the point where her care team notified her youngest daughter to travel from the University of Arkansas, where she was attending college, to see her mother.

PHOTO: In this Oct. 2, 2018 file photo, Mary Lou Retton appears on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
In this Oct. 2, 2018 file photo, Mary Lou Retton appears on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Eric McCandless/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images

Retton said her four daughters – McKenna Lane Kelley, Emma Jean Kelley, Shayla Kelley Schrepfer, and Skyla Kelley – were "constantly" at her side during the health crisis and even told her they were prepared to say goodbye to her.

"They said their goodbyes and said, 'Mom, it's OK. You can go'," Retton said.

Retton's daughter McKenna launched an online fundraiser while she was in the hospital to help pay for medical bills, and it has since raised nearly $500,000. However, the fundraiser has also drawn criticism, which has led some to question why a former iconic athlete who was once the cover star for Wheaties' boxed cereal would fall on hard financial times.

"The bills were and are still coming in," Retton said, adding that at the time, she did not have health insurance. "I didn't even know that was happening until I came to a few weeks later."

"They were just trying to take care of me," the mom of four added. "You're welcome to, you know, your opinion. But you weren't in that situation. My daughters stepped up to the plate and they saved my life."