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|| News Item: Posted 2006-04-28

'Few people survive that kind of brain trauma - I was beating the odds…'
By Dean Rutz, Seattle Times

Photo by Rod Mar

Photo by Rod Mar

Dean Rutz and his girlfriend Karen Ducey at Harborview Med Center in Seattle on Tuesday, April 25, 2006.
(Editor's Note: Last week Seattle Times staffer Dean Rutz had something happen to him that anyone who has covered sports fears: Getting beaned by a thrown ball. Rutz emailed Robert Hanashiro and gave him a rundown of the events and an update on his condition.)

Last Thursday the 20th, I was assigned to photograph Ferndale HS star Jake Locker north of Bellingham, at the Canadian border. Locker has signed to play football for the University of Washington this fall. But he is also a minor league pitching prospect. He was pitching against Anacortes that particular day.

The game had not even begun, and I was not even on the field. I was about 30 feet off the left field foul line, behind a four-foot fence that runs the entire foul line, and behind the dugout fence that protects you from home plate. We were in the bullpen watching Locker throw.

Without any warning, and according to Don Mann, the sports editor of the Ferndale paper who was there, an Anacortes outfield overthrew third, overthrew the fence, the pro scouts, overthrew Locker, but hit me square in the right temple. According to Mann, my head took the full force of the ball, which went to a dead stop, and fell straight down to my side.

I knew instantly what had happened, and I knew I was in trouble. I began to head to my knees, at which time I'm told I collapsed. One of the scouts grabbed me as I fell to the ground.

At that point, apparently I suffered my first seizure.

That part I don't remember. I remember lying on the ground, looking up at everybody in a circle around me, and joking that it resembled the last scene from the Wizard of Oz. I remember asking for a beer. I remember my right slight being slightly paralyzed.

Fortunately for me, on an adjacent diamond were two assistant coaches - one a volunteer fireman, the other a paramedic. They were with me instantly.

I remember them asking me my name and date and such, each of which I could answer without hesitation. Somebody asked me what time it was, and I looked at my watch. "You're not supposed to do that," the medic laughed.

Someone noted blood on my left hand and in my right ear, and said I needed to go in. I remember hearing the ambulance, which, again luckily for me, was only two blocks away. I remember pulling my car keys out and giving them to the writer, and telling him to collect and lock up my gear.

The paramedics loaded me for the ride to St. Joseph's in Bellingham.

I remember a sensation in the ambulance, and saying "we need to go" to the medics.

Suddenly, my body began to seize a second time. I remember reaching to my left side for the paramedic's hand hoping to steady myself.

I have no further memory until I wake up in the intensive care unit of St. Joe's on a ventilator.

The paramedics who later came to my room told me that that seize lasted three minutes, and was violent. At some point, they filled me with sedative "to put a horse down."

At some point in the ride to St. Joes I stopped breathing. A decision was made to pull over and intubate me.

Matt Stannard, a cameraman for KOMO-TV in Seattle, was also at that ballgame, although I do not remember seeing him. Matt said he shot his tape and drove to St. Joes, and asked to be let into ICU to see me. To his surprise, they let him in.

Matt said he saw me laying lifeless on the table, tube in my throat and tubes out my arms, and believed I had died. He whispered something into my ear, and said a prayer over me, before leaving - an act of such decency I am moved to tears each time I think about it.

Columnist and longtime friend Ron Judd, who lives nearby, was quick to the hospital after being alerted by the office. He describes a frightening scene in the ER as I was revived. He says the radiologist and neurologist argued over what the first CT scan showed. A second test was authorized injecting my veins with dye to see if an artery had ruptured in my head. It had not.

I was moved to a private room in ICU where I woke up some five hours later. The surgeon was to my left, Judd was to my right. The ventilator was crushing my windpipe. A decision was made to remove it. Ron left the room to talk to my girlfriend, Karen Ducey, who had just arrived.

As the ventilator was removed I began to vomit into my tubes. I could not breathe well, and it took considerable time to remove the breathing apparatus from my lungs. The nurse asked me if I had a living will.

The first couple of days were extremely difficult. The swelling and bleeding into my brain was been substantial, but amazingly I had all my motor skills and mental faculties - a miracle according to the doctors. Few people survive that kind of brain trauma I was beating the odds thanks to good health and, undoubtedly, the prayers of many people whom I have heard from who went to bat for me.

I have heard from so many people, I am humbled by the outpouring. I do not deserve such love, but I am grateful for it all. I appreciate Rod Mar and new DOP Barry Fitzsimmons' repeated trips to Bellingham, and their reassurances. The entire staff of the Seattle Times has been unbelievably compassionate.

I need to be sure to put a big I love you out to my girlfriend Karen who has been by my side throughout this whole ordeal. Karen is a freakin' saint.

That first night, as the option for surgery as held open, it was Karen who as at my bedside feeding me ice chips as I moaned and tossed all night long. Karen made the nurses roll a bed in alongside of mine so she could care for me. I mean, how special is that?

I stayed at St. Joes for four days, being released on Sunday.

I was at Harborview Medical Center last night having my fourth CT scan.

The results of that scan indicate multiple fractures of the skull above my right ear. Parts of my skull were pushed 5mm into the brain, resulting in blood loss and contusion. Also, a fracture was found in the orbital roof of my eye.

The doctors believe I am at risk indefinitely for seizure, although how great a risk we don't yet know. The swelling in my brain should subside in a couple of months.

The eye is misshapen, but the plastic surgeon does not feel anything can be done for me there.

The dizziness and fatigue and headaches are immense, and that's going to take some time to get used to. However, I can get by with a cane short distances.

We're back in the hospital tomorrow meeting with a neurologist at the University of Washington. I hope to know more about what's going on then.

In the meantime, I cannot adequately express my thanks to all who have written or called. My Blackberry - which I hated for so long - is now my lifeline. And every kind thought - if not read by myself, is read to me - and is appreciated like I can never tell you.

Thanks everybody. It's going to be okay.


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