Becca Wilson had a gut feeling that, after her son, Caiden, was hit in the head with a baseball before a game in April 2022, that his injury might be worse than it initially appeared.
Caiden, who plays for North Gwinnett High School’s baseball team, was knocked unconscious after the ball hit him during batting practice before a game against Loganville High School. He had been loading balls into the pitching machine and couldn’t get behind a protective screen in time before a teammate hit a line drive up the middle.
It wasn’t long before Caiden regained consciousness, but he had bruises and kept repeating himself, so his mother insisted he be taken to Children’s at Scottish Rite Hospital in Atlanta. Even after paramedics told her she could drive him herself, she insisted he be taken by ambulance instead.
“With this type of injury, it just comes down to time,” she said. “If you don’t get there, and if there is a bleed, then it’s deadly so, I just don’t know honestly, it was just a gut feeling like this is not OK. I think with him losing consciousness and the look in his eyes, it was just like ‘This is not OK.’”
That mother’s intuition turned out to be right. Caiden had suffered a concussion, temporal bone fracture, traumatic epidural hematoma, nasal bone fractures, uncial herniation, and a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
While he was getting a CAT scan in the hospital’s emergency department, his condition began to deteriorate, which doctors refer to as decompensating, and he fell into a coma.
“He had a fairly large blood clot in his head that was outside the brain, but inside the skull, and putting significant pressure on the brain enough so it caused his pupil to dilate and caused him to become comatose,” said Dr. David Wrubel, a neurologist a Scottish Rite who treated Caiden.
Doctors immediately took Caiden into surgery to remove the clot and relieve the pressure on his brain.
Wrubel said Becca Wilson’s instinct saved her son’s life by having him taken to the hospital immediately.
“It was one of those (situations) where probably, if decompensation would have happened anywhere except in the emergency department, I don’t know that he would have made it through the injury,” the doctor said.
“All injuries come in varying degrees and probably the majority of the epidural hematomas that we see are not as large as the one that he had. When we see big ones, people can (sometimes) not survive that.”
Whereas being in the right place at the right time saved Caiden’s life, what is being described as remarkable is the fact that he recovered quickly and was back on the baseball diamond, as a member of North Gwinnett’s varsity baseball team, in February, 10 months after his injury.
He plays third base for the Bulldogs.
Caiden said his recovery was tough at first, but the prospect of being an athlete again, and getting back to baseball, drove him to get better.
“I’d say the first half was really hard not knowing if I was going to be able to get back to the person I was before, being an athlete and all of that,” he said. “Then, once I started to see I felt athletic again and doing what I was doing before, I really got motivated to work harder at it.”
The fact that Caiden could recover from his injury does not surprise Wrubel, because the teen was in the hospital when he decompensated and is also young and an athlete.
It’s how quickly Caiden was able to leave the hospital and progress through recovery that makes the teen stand out, according to his doctor.
The injury occurred and Caiden was rushed to the hospital on April 13, 2022. Within four days, the teen was doing well enough to leave the pediatric ICU at Scottish Rite, and he was transferred to the hospital’s neurology floor.
His recovery continued to go well and he was transferred to in-patient rehab on April 22, 2022 to continue working with therapists. His recovery involved both physical and cognitive therapy, which mean a range of activities, from walking on a balance beam to being asked to name all of the schools in the Southeastern Conference.
“(Cognitive therapy) was kind of like a language arts class where I’d read something and answer questions on it, or solve a puzzle, or we’d play a board game, to get those cognitive thinking skills back,” Caiden said.
After he continued to respond well in recovery, he was able to leave the hospital and go home five days later — just over two weeks after his injury.
Wrubel had feared that, because Caiden slipped into a coma and needed a breathing tube because of his injury, the teen would end up facing a long recovery time.
“If (patients) decompensate, like he did, sometimes — and many times — it can mean several weeks if not months of rehabilitation and therapy and persistent significant deficits sometimes,” Wrubel said.
Caiden added, “While I was there, spending time there, I was just wanting it to go by faster, but looking back now, it was a blessing that I was able to recover the way I did, in the amount of time I did. It all just comes back to Children’s being here and the great care they do there.”
But, Caiden was focused on getting back to baseball during his recovery, giving him a motivation to get better. The teen’s mother added that the sport is a big part of her son’s life.
“Baseball is his main sport,” Becca Wilson said. “He loves golf and he played the other sports growing up, but for the last five years or so, it’s been all baseball.”
Something that Caiden said was a big boost in his recovery, however, was The Zone area at Scottish Rite.
The Zone is a part of the hospital where patients can go to find distractions to take their minds off their injuries. They can go outside or play basketball, ping pong, golf, XBox or Wii.
“I would say The Zone is probably a major part of my recovery,” Caiden said. “Just being able to get out of the hospital room, out of the bed, and go down and be in the sun, be outside — there’s bunch of athletic activities to do — and be myself really boosted everything.”
Caiden’s dad, Tim Wilson, said The Zone provided a place to “be normal” and talk about what was on the teen’s mind. He added that his son got excited when he first saw The Zone.
“We walked around the corner and his eyes just got super big with a big smile on his face,” Tim Wilson said. “He just had an instant connection and knew he was going to leverage that.”
Caiden said he enjoyed playing basketball and ping pong, and spending time outdoors during visits to The Zone.
“I will say I did beat my dad in ping pong while we were there so that was interesting,” he said. “But, definitely the basketball court (was a favorite) because it helped me really get back to, athletic-wise, running and jumping and being able move around.”
As for getting back to baseball, Caiden said it was a long process. He had to miss summer ball, but he and his dad went to batting cages to work on regaining baseball skills, such as throwing balls, field work and hitting.
“It was really just going to work at it every day, and keeping my faith that it would work out,” he said.
Tim Wilson praised his son’s work ethic and his persistence in doing whatever he had to do to get back to baseball. He said Caiden’s faith was a key part of his recovery as well.
“He really, really had to work hard this past year,” the father said. “Even up until school started, over the summer and through the fall, he’s really been doing everything he can to take care of his body, to work out, to eat right, to continue practicing his faith.
“Even though the 14 days was remarkable, it’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears beyond those 14 days to get him where he is.”
Caiden’s dad also pointed out that getting a spot on the varsity baseball team, as a sophomore, is no easy feat, even without an injury to come back from.
“It is an extremely, extremely competitive school,” Tim Wilson said. “We have a lot of juniors that aren’t playing varsity.”
Caiden said he and his family are taking more precautions now that he is back on the baseball field. There is a protective kevlar padding that he has to wear inside his hat whenever he is on the field.
There is also now a rule that helmets must be worn at all times in the batting cage.
Although the memory of his injury remains with Caiden, he has begun attending yoga classes with his mother and meditates now. It’s a way to calm his mind and ease any fears.
“In the back of my mind, I do play with a little more caution and it will always linger there, but I’ve learned to deal with it,” he said.
Becca Wilson said it can be frightening when a pitch goes too close to Caiden’s head in games now, but she also added, “Our motto here is ‘a life lived in fear is not a life worth living.’ You’ve got this second chance so go out and live it and enjoy it because living in fear is not an option.”
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