Accidents Happen at Practice Too. What A Local Baseball Dad Wants You to Know About Traumatic Brain Injuries

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The letter below was written by baseball dad Ryan Thomas to his local sports community. It should be required reading for parents to help identify the signs of a potentially fatal traumatic brain injury. Stories like this are why head protection should be required in youth baseball. 

Coaches, Managers, and Parents,

As some of you may have heard, our son Hudson Thomas was struck in the head with a baseball and suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) earlier this week during his team’s normal baseball practice. He was rushed to the pediatric trauma unit at Children’s Hospital in Dallas where they performed an emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and relieve the pressure on his brain. The surgery was successful, and last night they let us take our baby boy home. Words cannot describe how grateful we are that Hudson is going to be OK. I Praise the Lord for saving our child.

The injury Hudson suffered is relatively uncommon, but IT DOES HAPPEN and it is fatal 15-20% of the time. This is the exact same baseball injury sustained by MLB player Brandon McCarthy in 2012.

I have known and or competed against many of you for years, so I felt compelled to share the story. I just want everyone to be more aware so if you ever see anything like this happen, you can better protect all of our precious young athletes. Here is our story:

The Accident
As crazy as this sounds, Hudson literally hadn’t even started practicing yet. Most of our team was in their pre-practice routine, getting loose, throwing with a partner, progressing toward long toss. My son walked over to his bag to get his glove out and when he leaned over, an errant ball struck him squarely in the right side of his head, just above and behind the ear. He immediately dropped, mostly limp, and was obviously in a lot of pain, but he was still conscious. After a minute, we checked his eyes and asked him a few questions to see if there were any immediate signs of concussion; just like you would do if you suspected a concussion with a football player. His eyes were good and he was lucid, answering all of our questions correctly (more on this later). He was just in A LOT of pain so I walked him off the field and sat him down with an ice pack. After a few minutes it became obvious that his pain was severe and he was not going to return to the practice field that night. When I asked him what it felt like, he said that it felt dull and sharp at the same time, and throbbing. Of course it was… he just got hit with a baseball.

At this point, I had no idea what the next several hours would hold… At first I was thinking I would keep a close eye on him to watch for signs of concussion and then perhaps take him to the doctor if he developed any nausea, or other of the other tell-tale symptoms… but then, out of an abundance of caution, I decided to just go ahead and take him into the local urgent care clinic as a precaution.

Urgent Care Clinic
We walked into the urgent care and they quickly took him back. Again, he was responsive and his eyes looked good, but I told the doctors that the level of pain he was in was quite unusual. Any of you that know Hudson, know that he is a pretty tough kid. And for him to be in that much pain was very concerning to me, so I let the doctors know. Again, out of an abundance of caution, the doctors suggested that we could do a CT scan. It was right about this time that Hudson first vomited. Now I’m thinking, “yep, he definitely has a concussion.” So I gave consent to do the CT scan.

After the doctor looked at the scan results, he quickly pulled me out of the room to show me and I snapped photos of the images with my cell phone. (More on this later). This is where the whirlwind began. He told me that Hudson had suffered a traumatic head injury and there was significant bleeding inside of his skull, pressing on his brain, and that they had already called an ambulance to come get him. Of course my heart dropped and I couldn’t believe what he was telling me.

Hudson was wide awake, his pain started to subside, and he was lucid. Only sign of concussion at this point was the vomiting. While we waited for the ambulance, I called a buddy of mine who is a head and spine surgeon and texted him those CT photos. Within a few minutes he called me back and told me that it was indeed an emergency situation and that Hudson needed to be transported to the nearest trauma unit ASAP for brain surgery! “What, are you kidding me? A few minutes ago I had considered taking him home with his ice pack and ‘keeping a close eye on him.'” So grateful I did not do that.

Children’s Hospital Dallas
The ambulance showed up and rushed Hudson to downtown Dallas. We asked why we weren’t going to Children’s hospital in Plano and they said he needed to go to a pediatric neuro-trauma unit. Not something any parent ever wants to hear. In fact, they said the only reason they didn’t send CareFlight is that an ambulance was faster at that time of the evening with no traffic.

As we got into the ER, the team of neurosurgeons was waiting for us. They put the disc of the CT scan into their computer, but immediately realized the disk didn’t read. insert expletive here. That’s when I grabbed the doctor and told him I had the pictures of it on my iPhone. Thank God. He took one look at the pictures and explained to me that the blunt force of the baseball striking his skull ruptured blood vessel(s) and was pumping blood into his head and putting pressure on his brain (I’ll explain this better in a minute). They immediately rushed him into another CT scan which was needed for the surgery. Then, they rushed him directly into the OR.

The world just stopped while we waited. We just prayed for the Lord’s grace. Psalm 40:11-13

The surgery was successful, and over the next several days, Hudson showed great progress in his recovery. I could write a whole other story about that, but I’ll save that for another day. Hudson definitely won’t see the baseball diamond for quite some time, but he is still here and, God-willing, on the road to a full recovery. He’s home now and doing really well.

Hudson’s Diagnosis – Epidural Hematoma
Now, I am not a doctor, nor am I giving anyone any medical advice here. I just want to explain through my own very limited understanding, what happened so that folks are more aware and will be more cautious should they ever witness a similar incident.

Hudson had a TBI know as an Epidural Hematoma. Basically it’s where an artery/vein ruptures in the area between the skull and the Dura which is a leathery membrane that encapsulates the brain. The bleeding is usually from an artery which is under pressure so it just keeps pumping more blood into that space. In-turn, this literally squeezes the brain matter into whatever space it can find elsewhere in the head. If the bleeding is not stopped, the brain material can eventually restrict blood flow in the brain and push down into the base of the neck, cutting off involuntary functions such as breathing, etc. Death can follow.

My main point here is that you would probably not even realize this bleed is happening. After all, if Hudson had not vomited, he wouldn’t have shown any signs of a concussion. His eyes/pupils were fine, he was talking and answering all of our questions correctly, he was lucid, he had his balance, etc. Meanwhile, the pressure inside his cranium was building and may not have manifested itself until it was potentially too late. Scary. Had I just taken him home to keep an eye on him, I would have unknowingly wasted critical time and I might’ve been writing you a different story today. Again, praise the Lord that is not the case.

It may seem obvious, but a baseball to the head (at any speed) and a typical concussion can be very different injuries. Moreover, remember this was not even a batted ball, not a line drive… just a hard throw that hit him squarely on the head. I would urge all of you to educate yourselves about this and exercise an abundance of caution should you ever see something like this occur. I never imagined something like this was even possible, but it does happen. Be careful with those boys and keep them safe.

Best of luck to each of you this season and we hope to compete with you again soon.

Ryan Thomas
NTX Eagles 12U – Quinton, TX

Update 
Hudson started playing baseball again at the end of April, but has to wear a helmet during the whole game and isn’t allowed to play infield yet (per surgeons orders). His skull needs one full year to completely fuse back together.

Editor’s Note
Potentially fatal frontal and temporal head injuries in baseball are a parent’s nightmare, but a preventable one. I honestly don’t understand why head protection isn’t a mandatory part of every ball player’s uniform. For nearly a year now, Travel Ball Parents has partnered with Ball Cap Liner, the preferred under-cap head protector of millions of ball players in the US. It was developed by retired MLB All-Star Cliff Floyd, a passionate advocate for better skull protection in baseball.

 

“Unfortunately, people don’t get serious about it until after their kid has been hit,” says Floyd. “We get calls and emails all the time from parents whose players have been hit and they never want to go through something like that again. I’m thinking ‘why are we going down this road? I’m making it easy to keep them safe with a product that fits on the head like a glove, that you can’t even see under their ball cap. It’s only 4 ounces! You can forget that it’s on your head.”

 

“Even if you don’t wear it in a game, PLEASE wear it in practice. Practice is where injuries happen the most because, first of all, we’re not paying attention near as much as we are during a game, you’re getting way more reps, balls are flying all over the place. And on dirt infields, balls are coming at you even faster.”
My own kids sometimes push back against wearing a ball cap liner. But I’m the parent. It’s my job to keep them safe. I wouldn’t think of letting them ride in a car without a seat belt. This is no different. Please don’t be one of those who realize the importance of head protection after an injury or close call. Make your kid’s safety on the mound a top priority.
The Ball Cap Liner has been thoroughly tested in an independent lab and meets the high standards set out by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. Not every baseball head protector can make this claim.

 

For optimal fitting, players should wear the Ball Cap Liner under a cap that’s one size larger than normal or one that’s adjustable.
 

 

To order, visit the Ball Cap Liner store online. Use coupon code BCL16-TBP to save 15% off your order.
See Ball Cap Liner test results here. http://www.ballcapliner.com/ics-results/

 

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