Cameron Caldwell is 11 years old. His idol is Starlin Castro who plays short stop for the Chicago Cubs. His secret weapon in baseball is his slow pitching style. His favorite subject is math. He has a little brother named Caleb. To anyone who meets him, he seems like any other kid his age: smart, talkative, in love with baseball. What most people don’t know about Cameron is the sport he loves so much almost killed him.
Cameron and his brother Caleb have been playing baseball since they were old enough to walk. Even brain surgery after getting hit behind the ear by a baseball couldn’t slow Cameron down or change his love for the game.
“My husband and the boys can be found in our front yard nearly every day playing catch for hours,” says Brigit Caldwell, Cameron’s mother. “The Saturday before the opening game for Cameron’s league, my husband Gary threw the baseball to Cameron like he’s done hundreds of times. At the last second, Cameron turned and the ball hit him right behind the ear.”
Cameron’s father Gary is also an avid baseball player and even coaches baseball. “In every single game you see a kid get hit with the ball, I wasn’t really concerned at first,” Gary says. “He cried and said his ear and head hurt, and then went into our room to rest. At first, we thought he might have a concussion.”
Cameron’s parents gave him some ibuprofen and an ice pack. Within an hour, they knew that Cameron had more than a concussion. “He started screaming and his speech became incoherent,” Brigit explains. “His eyes rolled in the back of his head and he kept trying to talk, but words weren’t coming out. We immediately knew we had to get him to the hospital, and the minute we got into the car he threw up.”
The Caldwell’s drove to Upper Valley Medical Center, the closest hospital to their home in Ludlow Falls. “They had to strap him down in the emergency room because he was thrashing uncontrollably,” explains Brigit. “They ordered a CT scan and minutes later told us they were sending Cameron by CareFlight to Dayton Children’s. My heart sank in my chest. When the helicopter arrived the first thing the transport nurse said to me was ‘I know you, our kids play baseball together.’ I immediately felt a wave of relief, like this person was put in my life during a crisis to care for Cameron,” Brigit shares.
In the operating room
After Cameron arrived at Dayton Children’s, he was in surgery in 21 minutes. “We were told he had a large epidural hematoma,” says Brigit. “Basically, the impact of the baseball caused bleeding and swelling in his brain. I knew he was in bad shape, but I don’t think I understood quite how grave his situation was at the time,” shares Brigit.
According to Laurence Kleiner, MD, neurosurgeon at Dayton Children’s, “An epidural hematoma is bleeding from a tear in the artery covering the brain. There’s only so much space in the skull so the swelling may cause the brain to shift. Once the brain runs out of room, the swelling can cut off blood flow to the brain and ultimately lead to death. Cameron’s right pupil was fixed and dilated when he arrived to Dayton Children’s, which is a very bad sign that the brain has shifted and the patient has minutes left to live.”
The bleeds in Cameron’s brain needed to be repaired and a clot removed to reduce the pressure on his brain in order for him to survive.
The Caldwell family wasn’t sure what type of life Cameron would have if – or when – he woke up from surgery.
Days of uncertainty
“My worst fear was his life would never be normal again,” says Gary. “Two days later, he finally woke up. His eyes were so swollen he couldn’t open them. He communicated by giving us a thumbs up or down. He had 57 staples in his head. It was the worst two days of my life – I’m the one that threw the baseball to him.”
Despite suffering a potentially fatal accident and undergoing brain surgery, Cameron walked out of Dayton Children’s five days later.
For the love of the game
According to Brigit, Cameron’s biggest concern was getting back to playing ball. “When we took him to have the staples in his head removed, the first thing he asked the nurse was how soon he could play baseball,” says Brigit. “She looked at him and said, ‘Cameron, the sport you love almost killed you, give your brain time to heal.’ I think that’s when it hit home that we almost lost him or lost him as we knew him,” says Brigit. “I saw him deteriorate, I saw the scans of his brain, but until I heard those words, it wasn’t real to me that Cameron was minutes away from dying.”
Cameron started physical and speech therapy shortly after going home, but was discharged after only a few sessions. “Within a matter of days he was 99 percent back to ‘Cameron’ before his accident,” Brigit says.
Just three months after Cameron’s accident, he was cleared to play soccer while wearing a helmet for protection and to play baseball again next spring.
“His first soccer game, I just held my breath watching him,” says Gary. “His biggest dream is to be the next Starlin Castro, but he never could have overcome this type of injury and be where he is today without the experts at Dayton Children’s. We never once felt like we were at a hospital; we felt like we were part of an amazing team with one focus – to save Cameron’s life.”