BY: REBECCA PRESLAR
Last Friday night, I thought my daughter was going to die. While a bold and dramatic statement, it is also, unfortunately, the truth. But the night had begun with a drastically different tone.
Our family decided to attend a Charlotte Knights game on Friday night. It was a holiday weekend, fireworks Friday, and because we have already booked up our summer schedule with trips to other minor league ballparks across the state, it was also one of our only weekends to catch our local minor league team in action.
We arrived at the stadium early, one of the first to enter the gates at 6:00. Just moments after entering the ballpark, as we are standing around taking in the gorgeous view of the Charlotte city skyline above the field, we were approached by a stadium employee with a special request.
He was looking for two kids to assist with the pregame activities on the field and our two children were happy to oblige! We were shuttled down the behind-the-scenes corridors: a flight of stairs below the concourse, and into a tunnel just steps from the hometeam dugout. We had clear visual access to the field behind home plate, and were all amazed at our reality. Colin was asked to walk on field with the Knights team manager and hand the lineup card to the plate umpire before the game. Katelyn was selected to shout out loud the two words that kick any ballgame into action. “PLAY BALL!”
As parents, we were allowed on the field with them. All four of us were in shock and awe of our great fortune for the evening. And to top it all off... they both did outstanding with their jobs!
While floating on cloud nine, we made our way to our seats. Since we had purchased our tickets last minute, our seats were in section 102, more than halfway down the right field line, in a unique section that juts into the field, still with a great view of the action. And one feature we always love? NO NETS in the way blocking our view of the field.
So there we are, relaxing under the stadium lights, kids enjoying a snack, and me just looking around at the atmosphere surrounding us - feeling grateful for this experience and for this life we live.
When suddenly I hear my husband say “ball coming”. I see the little league team of boys in front of us all jumping and waving their gloves to catch a foul ball, when suddenly I hear Katelyn gasping for air and choking on her food beside me. It only takes a moment to realize what is really going on: my daughter was struck by the screaming foul ball, directly in the throat.
She’s immediately vomiting blood. We’re rushing her up the stairs. The medics are carrying her to the first aid room. And all the time she is reaching for me with terror in her eyes and yelling as best she can, over and over, three words that are still ringing in my ears...”I CAN’T BREATHE!”
The medic team struggled to get her airway open. The trauma and impact had swollen her airway shut, and none of the tubes to intubate were small enough to fit her rapidly swelling throat.
She wasn’t getting oxygen, and I was afraid I was losing my baby girl. After that, I couldn’t say if it was minutes or hours. Eventually I am sitting in the front seat of the ambulance as the EMT’s are rushing her to the children’s hospital that fortunately happens to be just a few blocks away from the stadium!
Upon arrival at the ER, more than 25 doctors and other medical staff are huddled around her room, on her case, ready to to save her.
And I wait... I trust them to do their job... And I wait.
And they do it! The medical team successfully gets a tube in her throat. They stabilize her neck with a brace. They suction out all the blood and mucus filling her stomach. They fill her veins with pain medication so she doesn’t hurt anymore. And they roll her away to take scans of her brain, neck, and lungs and every other part of her body possibly affected by the trauma of being hit in the throat by a baseball at 100mph.
Days later, she has made great progress. She has no signs of brain damage or bone damage. While she could not yet speak, she could communicate with her eyes, nodding, and moving her hands. Then she began typing on my iPhone and writing on a whiteboard to say what she wants or needs. She has a lot of fight in her, and she doesn’t seem too afraid.
Katelyn has Cystic Fibrosis, so being in a hospital, being surrounded by doctors, taking medications and everything that comes with this environment doesn’t frighten her. Because of her CF, we have to be extra cautious about her lungs and keeping her airway open. She was responding well to the doctors and the treatments and just had to give it time and let her body heal.
Five days after the accident, her vent tube was removed. A scope of her airways shows no damage, and she doesn’t even have a bruise on the outside of her neck from the impact. She can eat. She can drink. And she can get back to her awesome, usual self.
Once the shock wore off, I found myself googling “hit by foul ball”. I’ve also read several reports of children who were hit by baseballs at outrageous speeds, many of whom have become advocates for nets at ballfields covering every seat. So, of course, I had to ask myself: do I blame the Charlotte Knights for what happened to Katelyn? Do I blame the lack of nets? The truth is I DON’T. We CHOSE to sit in that section. BB&T Ballpark has nets above the seats in the plate area extending beyond the dugout. Last year, we sat above the dugout and remember feeling like our view was obstructed by the nets. Safety is important, but there are and always will be those baseball fans that believe nets take away from the true ballpark experience. WE ARE those sorts of fans.
In fact, in the last month, we had been to two Winston-Salem Dash games and sat just beyond the dugouts in the front row...with no nets. PRIME SEATING FOR A FOUL BALL. So much so, we were (gently) tossed two balls by some players. Earlier this season , we attended opening weekend in North Augusta, SC at the new SRP Park. We spent half of a game wandering around the open 360 degree concourse. She could have been hit just as badly several hours away from home. The ball in Charlotte could have hit a few inches higher or lower causing broken chest or skull, with brain damage. Or the ball could have struck five feet in any other direction and she wouldn't have been impacted at all.
All those things considered, we are fortunate she is doing as well as she is. Accidents happen! This accident was terribly terrible, but she is getting through it. We all are