Young athlete fights back from brain injury - East Valley Tribune: News

Young athlete fights back from brain injury

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Posted: Saturday, October 17, 2009 6:34 pm | Updated: 1:29 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Nathan Reich sat up for the first time in more than a week and promptly threw up. He was 10 years old and was lying in a bed at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, unable to control his right arm and with little feeling in his right leg.

The nurses helping Reich told him that they would try to help him sit up again later.

Reich was having none of it.

“I was on an all-star baseball team at the time and all my friends would come to my bed every day, so I kind of wanted to walk and I wanted to play baseball again,” Reich said. “I was 10, I didn’t know what paralyzed meant. I was going to get up.”

Reich, now a 14-year-old freshman at Chandler Basha High School, did get up and, with help, walk to the therapists’ station.

“He was determined,” said Reich’s mother, Ardin Tucker. “He was going to get everything back.”

What nearly took everything from Reich was a severe brain injury. While golfing on a hot July day at Glen Lakes Golf Course in Glendale, Reich and two of his friends were allowing a faster group to play through. Reich and his friends took shelter under a tree just off the fairway when Reich was hit in the back of the head by an errant tee shot.

“Nobody yelled 'fore,’” Reich said. “It didn’t really hurt too much, but my body went numb. It was weird, like I had static all over. My right arm went paralyzed right away.”

Tucker describes what happened to her son like this: “Normally, you’d get a goose egg on the outside if you’re hit on the head, but Nate’s goose egg was internal.”

Reich had several seizures while in the hospital due to the bleeding in his brain. Luckily, surgery wasn’t required.

Reich’s injury affected the fine motor skills and movement in his right arm and leg. Initially, doctors were concerned that he’d never regain use of his right leg and arm, but Reich was wiggling his big toe after three days in the hospital.

Slowly, Reich regained full function in his right leg. Now, Reich’s legs have made him one of the top freshmen cross country runners in Arizona. Reich has been Basha’s top runner for the majority of the season.

He placed fourth in the freshman race at the Chandler Invitational and 10th in the varsity race at the Queen Creek Desert Twilight event. He’s already qualified for the 5A-I state meet.

His determination to sit up in bed has carried over to the athletic arena.

“They told him he wouldn’t walk and when you tell someone like Nate no, that lights a fire,” Basha cross country coach Jason Anderton said. “He’s just a great kid as far as his attitude and believing. He’s positive.”

The only lingering effects of the injury are a slight stuttering problem and struggles with fine-motor movements in his right hand. He was also told that some of his cognitive abilities would be slow to return, but Reich got all A’s and one B on his first-quarter grade report.

“He struggled at first,” Tucker said. “He had cognitive problems reading papers. So that was a struggle. But, he’s proving them all wrong.”

Reich has made some adjustments to overcome the lack of fine motor movement in his right hand, becoming a lefty in baseball, where he returned to play the summer after his injury.

Ironically, Reich also returned to playing golf.

“He’s actually got a better swing now than he did before the injury,” Tucker said.

“At first I was kind of hesitant about playing again,” Reich said. “When I went out there the first time, I was looking everywhere, every second. I was still kind of freaked the first time I went out six months after the injury.”

Reich is actually going to get to play a little golf with a PGA Tour professional in November, when he travels to Lake Buena Vista, Fa., to play in the pro-am in conjunction with the Children’s Miracle Network Classic.

Reich was also invited to speak at a function put on by the Children’s Miracle Network during the event.

Reich got involved with the CMN through Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where Reich speaks to children with brain injuries and their parents, as well as at hospital fundraising events.

“He’s on the Children’s Advisory Board at the hospital and meets other patients with brain injuries,” Tucker said. “It’s his nature to help other children. He just thinks its cool that he gets to meet other people.”

“I just like to help kids that had the same thing as I did,” Reich said. “I just tell them to never give up because anything is possible.”

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