Student hit in eye with softball to resume athletics
Leroy, Mich. — KayLee Goodman doesn’t remember the exact date she heard the good news.
She just remembers her reaction and the moments thereafter.
Goodman’s smile was more than a mile wide, her eyes lit up and she was ecstatic. The Pine River High School sophomore-to-be had been cleared to return to sports by her doctor.
That return started in earnest Wednesday with the first day of volleyball practice for the Bucks, according to the Cadillac News.
The day Goodman found out she could again play sports was July 12. It’s another date, though, a couple of months earlier that Goodman can rattle off in a split-second.
It’s the date her life changed in about that same split-second.
“It was May 5 and I was sitting by my friends on the hill by the third base line (near the Pine River baseball field),” Goodman said. “I couldn’t see who was batting and we weren’t paying attention anyway because we were taking pictures of each other.”
That’s a perfectly normal thing for high school girls to do after a softball doubleheader on a spring evening.
It’s the moments after that were terrifying for everyone involved.
A foul ball shot out of the baseball field and hit Goodman directly in the right eye. The sudden blow didn’t knock her out but she did later lose consciousness.
“I didn’t see the ball at all,” she said. “I remember putting my hand up to my eye right away and leaning forward and I remember my hand getting really warm.
“I think I heard (Pine River softball) Coach (Laura) Mumby yell my name and her pulling me back. I’m really thankful it hit me instead of one of the little kids that was around there because it could’ve easily killed one of them.”
Goodman remembers bits and pieces of the ride to Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital. She recalls laying back in the car and Mumby trying to put ice on her eye but that it really hurt and she kept pushing the ice away.
Family members also made sure to keep Goodman awake by having her squeeze their hands over the 20-mile drive.
Goodman had a CAT scan taken of her head and four stitches placed around her eye in Reed City before she was taken to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids.
“I remember not being able to open either of my eyes and that my (right) eye was really swollen,” she said. “I remember the doctors trying to open my eye and that the light really hurt.
“I didn’t know if the ball had hit both of my eyes but I knew something had happened.”
She woke up around 4 a.m. the following morning in the hospital and tried to stand up but had no balance. On the second day, she had something to eat but not much because doctors were still trying to figure out a course of action and if surgery would be involved.
Eventually, the swelling subsided enough for doctors to determine there was some damage to the optic nerve but it was the retina that sustained the most damage. Doctors also determined Goodman had suffered a traumatic brain injury from the impact to the eye.
“It’s like little pieces of my retina are just gone,” Goodman said. “I only see 25 percent out of my whole right eye.
“I can’t see right in the middle or up. I can see the sides and down.”
Goodman will have surgery next summer that should help alleviate some double vision and glares but it won’t improve her overall vision.
“What my vision is now is what it will be forever,” she added.
That’s the physical toll.
The mental toll is getting much better now that sports is back in Goodman’s life but it’s been a long road.
She never lost her positive attitude, though, through everything.
“Even when it first happened, I never thought that it would stop me from anything,” she said. “There were times that I wanted to give up but I won’t because I know that I can get through this.”
The day after she was finally released from the hospital, Pine River had a softball doubleheader and Goodman wanted to be on the field with her teammates. She could barely walk at the time, though, let alone do much else.
“That was the hardest part ... watching my team play without me,” Goodman said. “I think if I didn’t have my family by my side, there is no way I’d be where I am at right now.”
She was able to join her teammates, though, toward the end of the season and got to hang out in the dugout during games.
Goodman’s biggest rock throughout the ordeal has been her older sister Cayman Gatt, also a softball player who was at Davenport University at the time of the accident.
“She was supposed to go to nationals with her team but she turned her jersey in and said she couldn’t go. She said she couldn’t leave me,” Goodman said. “She slept with me every night, she massaged my head when it hurt and she held my hand when I cried.”
Goodman, like anyone who goes through a life-altering experience, asked “why me?” a lot and cried through it. Her family and friends have helped Goodman at every step, helping her through the physical and cognitive rehab.
All of that was emotional at times for Goodman but it was in mid-July that she got the news she wanted to hear. At one of her multitude of doctor’s appointments, Goodman’s doctor told her she was released to resume sports.
“I just looked at her and smiled,” Goodman said. “That was the hardest thing, not being able to play sports.
“I was so happy I could play!”
Goodman will wear glasses in the classroom and protective goggles on the athletic court as she adjusts to what she can and can’t do.
She’s putting in extra time with Pine River volleyball coach Jana Dennis to find ways to compensate for her vision loss, too.
“If someone hits a ball right at me, I can’t tell exactly where it’s at,” Goodman said. “I have to react really fast at the last minute.”
Goodman is a three-sport athlete and will pick up basketball this winter and softball next spring.
Pine River opens its volleyball season Aug. 22 at the Traverse City Central Invitational.