High school baseball player undergoes emergency brain surgery after online practice hits him in the head
In September 2021, Alexander “Alex” Dayle, a varsity first baseman from his high school, joined a few teammates for an informal practice. Dayle threw the ball to the batter who hit the ball, which slammed into his skull.
“Boom – straight to the head,” the 17-year-old from New York City told TODAY. “My immediate reaction was to get up, but I literally couldn’t. I stayed on the ground for a long time, like 10 minutes, trying to find my bearings.
When Alex got home, his mother and brother noticed something wrong with him. The next day, they went to the emergency department where he was told he had a large temporal hematoma, a blood clot, in his brain, and needed immediate brain surgery.
“They told us we really only had two choices, you can schedule him for emergency surgery now or we’ll schedule emergency surgery for him in two minutes,” said Anita Walker, the mother of Dayle, to TODAY. “His head was about to pop out of the pressure.”
A surprise diagnosis
On the way home from practice, Dayle felt nauseous. At home, he took Tylenol and rested. He doesn’t often mention if he’s in pain, so Walker wanted to keep an eye on him.
“There was no big blow to his head and you didn’t see any blood. There was no evidence of trauma. You haven’t seen it,” Walker said. “He vomited.”
Dayle didn’t tell his mother about his vomiting, but his brother did, and Walker thought he might have had a concussion. That evening, Alex began to experience extreme pain, such as an “aggravated migraine” and sensitivity to light.
“All of a sudden he was like, ‘OK, turn off the lights. The lights bother me,'” Walker recalled. “It wasn’t like Alex complaining about anything.”
He slept but Walker stayed home after his job at a financial services company to make sure he got better. When Walker asked how he was feeling, he moaned and she decided to take him to the ER. There he received a CT scan for what Walker thought was a concussion.
“They showed us the footage, of which you can visibly see the brain bleeding,” she said. “In the pictures it looks huge.”
Walker felt “numbed” and peppered the staff with questions to figure out what was going on. When she realized the seriousness of her son’s condition, she went into “fight or flight mode”.
“Normally I cry and have nasty tears,” Walker said. “I didn’t even shed a tear. I was just like ‘What do I need to do to make him better.’ That’s all I could think of. Dayle’s memory of this time is a bit spotty. He remembers doctors telling him he needed surgery, but he still thought he had a “pretty bad concussion”.
“I went with it because there was really nothing I could do,” Alex said. “I just accepted my fate.”
Emergency surgery for an “abnormal accident”
Dr. Peter Morgenstern, a pediatric neurosurgeon, was working when Dayle arrived in the emergency department at Mount Sinai Hospital. Morgenstern said Dayle had an intracerebral hemorrhage, “bleeding into the brain itself”, on his right side above his ear near the temporal bone, which is often thinner than other places in the skull. . But the bone was not broken, “which is also very unusual”.
“It was a freak accident,” Morgenstern told TODAY. “He has just been hit right in a vulnerable part of the skull.”
Although Dayle had ‘fairly serious symptoms’, he did not appear ill, so Morgenstern believes the signs could have been missed. Fortunately, Walker had watched his son carefully and knew when he was unwell.
“He was clearly in very bad pain and his mother made it clear to me that he was not complaining,” Morgenstern said. “He’s a pretty stoic kid.”
Because the bone wasn’t broken, they did a few more tests to make sure he didn’t have a tumor or some sort of blood vessel malformation that might have contributed to the bleeding. After ruling them out, they knew surgery was the best option.
“Alex had a major haemorrhage and I was worried that he would deteriorate very quickly,” he explained.
Morgenstern opened the skull to remove the bleeding.
“We basically suck out the blood clot, then look at the whole surrounding brain and irrigate it with sterile fluid to clean everything out,” Morgenstern said. “If there is something actively bleeding, we cauterize it and if not, we close everything.”
They used his skull bones and “tiny titanium plates” to reconstruct his head.
“In children, it heals really, really well,” Morgenstern said. “Alex bounced back as quickly as any patient I’ve seen. When I saw him the next morning he said he had a little incisional and muscle pain where we did the surgery and a headache. But the pain he didn’t have wasn’t as bad as the pain he had when he was in the ER.
Back in the field
Before his accident, Alex hoped to play college baseball. As he recovered, we wondered if he could return to the sport he loved. Immediately after the operation, he woke up in the pediatric intensive care unit and even struggled to speak.
“It was even difficult to speak,” he said. “I have no appetite. I’m not eating. Light sensitivity still severe so I’m barely keeping busy. It was tough.
His friends and teammates visited him. One day, seven people crowded into his room. Friends made signs and stood outside the hospital to keep their spirits up.
“It was really refreshing,” he said.
He first had to undergo physical therapy by walking down the hall “to make sure his motor skills were intact,” Walker explained.
“First he was assisted, then he was not assisted. Then he was able to go to the bathroom on his own,” Walker said. “His recovery has been pretty good. »
He felt so healthy that when he got out of the hospital, he wanted to attend an orientation for his senior year of high school, just days after his brain surgery.
“I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? Wait a minute, you just had brain surgery,'” Walker said.
School didn’t seem any different for Alex, but he had to wait to play baseball. Around February, Morgenstern cleared him to start training.
“I usually suggest we wait (the sport) for a while while he recovers. But once he’s recovered, he doesn’t have anything specific that makes him vulnerable to future injury outside of the previous surgical site,” Morgenstern said. “I told him I think he should wear a helmet.”
At first, the high school slugger felt frustrated.
“I felt like I was falling a bit behind the curve,” he said. “I plan on playing college baseball, so I think that’s a big downfall for me.”
But he understood why he had to wait. Over time, however, the operation has become a distant memory, and he looks forward to playing baseball in the fall at the University of Virginia.
“I feel like nothing really happened. I don’t really feel the scar anymore. I think about it here and there, like, ‘Wow, that really happened,'” he said “It’s just back to normal Alex now.”