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Prep Sports

BACK AT IT: Leland's Fries on the field again after head injury

Two feet.

That is the distance between the top edge of the dugout and the protective fence in front of the softball dugouts at Leland High School.

Unfortunately that was just enough room for a high foul ball from the adjacent baseball field to strike Earlville-Leland softball player Kaitlyn Fries in the head on April 19, 2017.

​"I was in the dugout sitting on a bucket and fixing an error in the scorebook," Kaitlyn said. "I just remember looking up, looking down and saying, 'Ow.' The next thing I remember is being strapped to a board in the helicopter and that the nurse above me had really pretty blue eyes."

​E-L coach Shannon Cook rushed to the dugout after calls from Kaitlyn's teammates. Cook immediately asked for parents to call 911.

"The parents here at the game called me," said Kaitlyn's mother, Tina. "Neither her dad John or I were there, because Kaitlyn told us the game was going to be in La Moille.

"We were going to meet the ambulance in Sandwich, but the doctors there said that because she wasn't staying conscious and was having some seizure-like activity, that she needed to get to a trauma center immediately. I was able to get to Leland before the helicopter got there and was able to see her before she went up.

"It really hit me when the helicopter landed and I remember thinking, 'She is not where she is supposed to be.' "

Kaitlyn was life-flighted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove.

"By the time my husband and I got there, they already completed all the scans that needed to be done. We were able to see her right away, and she looked at me and said, 'Hi, Mom.' The first couple of hours with a concussion can be really iffy, especially one that the person goes in and out of consciousness several times like she did. It was a very traumatic head injury, and she ended up having whiplash as well. They kept her overnight for observation, and she went home the next day."

Kaitlyn then started the slow recovery process, but it was and hasn't been easy.

​"I did a lot of sleeping, sometimes 20 hours at a time," Kaitlyn said. "I had to stay in a dark room, and I couldn't watch television or be on my phone. I felt really secluded, and that was really hard mentally for me. I couldn't go to school for almost a month, and then when I did go back it was for only half days.

"I was angry because I couldn't play. I wanted to go and go, but I couldn't. I had to sit and watch my team play."

​Tina said her daughter struggled with focus both with her eyes and overall mentally.

"​I still have problems with focus, and I started getting post-concussion syndrome about two months ago," Kaitlyn said. "I have severe migraines, I'm tired and I get dizzy sometimes. I get triggered really fast because my patience is very thin. School is harder than it has ever been.

"At first I was worried that I wouldn't be able to play again because my left side was numb. I eventually jumped into hitting lessons to try and get my hand-eye coordination back, and that was really hard. I had to re-learn to use my left side. There are still tough days, for sure."

​Kaitlyn, the Raiders starting second baseman, was cleared to play softball this spring — the day before practice started — and said Coach Cook is one of her biggest supporters.​

"We now play on opposite fields when both teams are playing in Leland, and she can't ever be out of the dugout without a helmet on," said Cook of just a few safety measures now in place for games. "We have tried to do anything we can to keep her safe. We don't ever want anything like this to happen again."

Doctors say that a normal concussion can take up to a year to heal, but with the severity of Kaitlyn's, it's going to take longer.

"​I'm just going to keep improving, finish high school strong and next year I'm going to play softball at Waubonsee Community College," Kaitlyn said.

"(The injury) gave me a different outlook on life, and I see the world a whole lot different than I did before."

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