San Diego family grateful after CHOC team saves son, 12, who needed emergency brain surgery
On Saturday, April 1, as Dr. Suresh Magge was walking back to his car after watching his 10-year-old son play in a Little League game, his phone rang.
The neurosurgeon was on call. A trauma patient had just arrived in the Emergency Department at CHOC at Mission Hospital.
A 12-year-old boy had an epidural hematoma – bleeding between the tough outer membrane covering the brain and beneath the skull – that was over 2 cm in size. When a brain bleed is over 1 cm, surgeons think about operating.
“It was definitely very concerning,” recalls Dr. Magge, who rushed to the hospital to meet the patient’s parents, Brooke and Ryan Green, and their 15-year-old daughter.
Less than two hours earlier, the Greens were in Huntington Beach at a travel baseball team tournament.
On the mound for the 12-and-under Riptide team was southpaw pitcher Garrison Green.
Early in the game, Garrison was struck in the head by a line-drive hit from the opposing team’s best batter.
His family, teammates and others kept a close watch on Garrison as he sat down, walked around a bit, and applied ice to his head where the baseball drilled him above his right eyebrow.
He never lost consciousness.
A 911 call
After the game, while returning home to San Marcos in north San Diego County, Garrison complained about sharp pain in his head. He began to cry. Then he got lethargic. After he vomited, the Greens pulled off the freeway in Lake Forest.
They rushed to a nearby urgent care but it was closed.
Then they called 911.
With epidural hematomas of the brain, timing is critical.
Wait too long, and you risk permanent brain damage, coma – even death.
“A person can seem OK after suffering a head injury, but what happens after time passes is that the bleeding can start to build up,” explains Dr. Magge, medical director of neurosurgery for CHOC and co-medical director of the CHOC Neuroscience Institute.
Such was the case with Garrison, a die-hard San Diego Padres fan who has been playing baseball since he was 3 years old.
Not an uncommon injury
Dr. Magge grew up with baseball.
“It’s a great game,” he says. “I love it.”
Dr. Magge’s son’s team won the game that day.
The team name?
The San Diego Padres.
It’s not uncommon for Dr. Magge and other members of CHOC Neurosurgery team to see the type of bleeding suffered by Garrison.
“I’ve seen it with football injuries, car accidents, falls and other traumatic injuries,” Dr. Magge says.
And it happens in Major League Baseball games, too.
During a one-week span this May, Colorado Rockies pitcher Ryan Feltner suffered a skull fracture and a concussion after he was hit in the head by a 92.7-mph line drive. And the Kansas City Royals placed pitcher Ryan Yarbrough on 15-day injured reserve for head fractures after he was hit in the face by a line drive.
A ‘classic case’ of epidural hematoma
Dr. Magge praised Garrison’s parents for calling 911.
“This is a classic case of an epidural hematoma where you have an initial trauma and it causes acute injury to the skull and potentially the underlying blood vessels,” Dr. Magge explains.
When Garrison arrived at CHOC at Mission Hospital, he was awake but drowsy and getting worse.
“We caught it just in time and rushed him to the operating room,” Dr. Magge recalls.
The Greens say Dr. Magge, as well as Dr. Gary Goodman, a pediatric critical care specialist at CHOC at Mission, made them feel very reassured.
“He was very confident he was going to go in and be successful,” Brooke Green says of Dr. Magge.
Dr. Magge opened up Garrison’s scalp and used a drill to remove a piece of his skull.
He then saw the “unusually large” blood clot pressing down on his brain.
Dr. Magge used a combination of irrigation, suction, and forceps to remove all of the clot.
He then made sure it was dry and there was no more bleeding. Dr. Magge used titanium plates to secure the skull bone back in place. Over a period of about one year, the bone should slowly fuse with the rest of the skull.
He closed Garrison’s scalp with staples.
When he awoke, Garrison asked his parents:
“What time is our game tomorrow? Do you think Coach Anthony is going to need me to pitch?”
Out of respect for Garrison, the Riptide pulled out of the weekend tournament.
Baseball teammates show solidarity
The surgery went great and Garrison spent two nights at CHOC at Mission before going home.
A few days after surgery, and once Garrison’s head was a little less sensitive, his father and several teammates shaved their heads in solidarity.
Garrison’s recovery is going beautifully, Dr. Magge says.
A month after he was hit in the head, Garrison, who just finished sixth grade, posted a video on social media saying he was OK and thanking everyone for their support.
The postings generated community support, including a personal video of encouragement from former MLB star and two-time World Series championship team member David Justice.
“It hurts me to my heart!” David tells Garrison in the clip. “Get well, come back stronger, and keep playing this wonderful game of baseball.”
‘Red flag’ symptoms of head trauma
Dr. Magge says that in general, symptoms to watch for after experiencing head trauma are worsening headaches, vomiting, lethargy and seizures.
“These are all big red flags,” he says.
Dr. Magee says if the Greens had continued driving to San Diego things may have turned out much worse.
Brooke says Garrison’s care at CHOC was “phenomenal. It’s couldn’t have gotten better. Once we were in CHOC’s care, I was confident everything was going to be OK.”
She adds: “We continue to receive outstanding care from the CHOC staff. We live about an hour from CHOC and could transfer his care to a local hospital, but we will continue to drive up to Orange County to see Dr. Magge.”
Garrison returned to CHOC in May to make sure his scar was healing properly. He goes back in August for another MRI to make sure all looks good.
“We’ll forever be grateful to Dr. Magge for saving Garrison’s life, and, subsequently, all of ours,” Brooke says. “He and the entire team at CHOC took such wonderful care of us.”
Garrison can’t wait to start playing baseball again.
He’ll start pitching lessons with his coach soon and hopes to resume play in 2024.
“He has no fear of getting back to playing,” Brooke says.
Meanwhile, Garrison and his baseball friends have started a whiffle ball league.
He plays with a helmet on.
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At CHOC, our team of board-certified specialists and neuroscience-trained staff provide a full spectrum of care for disorders of the brain, spine, muscles and nervous system.