“You can knock me down, but you can’t keep me down.”
It is a motto that we all try to follow successfully in life.
Very few people, however, successfully do so to as much of an extent as 15-year old District 11 Challenger Baseball League player Kayla Garland has.
Today, Kayla is an active girl who gets to enjoy the love of sports with the friends and family that she’s made in the Challenger League — despite staring death in the face just one year ago and going without vision in both of her eyes.
“It’s amazing,” Kayla’s mother, Tracy Grube, said. “For Kayla to have this opportunity without having vision is amazing, as well. Mike Bell (Challenger League coach) has been a big part of her joining the Challenger League, and he’s done very well with her. When she first started, she had to use a ball that beeps to hear it coming. Now, he’s got her hitting a regular baseball. It’s amazing to see her journey and how far she’s come.”
However, just over a year ago, that was the farthest thing from the minds of Kayla’s family.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016 looked to be another calm, late spring day for Tracy, Kayla, and Kayla’s older sister, Josalyn Grube, with Tracy out providing for her kids, who were enjoying the beginning of summer break. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t end that way.
During the afternoon hours of June 8, Kayla, who was at home with Josalyn, experienced a fall at her house and suddenly went into cardiac arrest without any signs or precursors that could cause such a traumatic event. With no signs of life, Josalyn called 911.
There, Portsmouth Ambulance paramedic Melissa Pace, along with several others, arrived at the scene. Pace, knowing that a matter of seconds could mean life or death for Kayla, didn’t hesitate in their response to revive the then 14-year old.
“I didn’t really have time to think,” Pace said. “I just acted first. Your training and skills just come naturally, and you just start working. As soon as I realized she wasn’t breathing, and didn’t have a pulse after I checked, I just did CPR. From there, we put Kayla on a cardiac monitor and a defibrillator. We started an IV and administered some medication.”
With Garland still not breathing or holding a pulse, Pace shocked her three times and, with the help of the Portsmouth Ambulance crew, gave Kayla several rounds of medication. The efforts of Josalyn and Melissa, along with a true miracle, brought Kayla back to life.
“I responded to a fall, and when I got there, Kayla was actually in full cardiac arrest,” Pace said. “She wasn’t breathing and she didn’t have a pulse. I initiated CPR on here and got her to the ambulance. We did everything that we needed to do, and managed to get a heartbeat back.”
By the time Tracy was able to make it back home, Kayla was already being wheeled out to the ambulance.
“(Josalyn) called and said that Kayla had just fallen over, and thought that she was having a seizure, so she called 911.” Grube said. “I rushed home, and when I got there, the EMT’s were bringing her out to the ambulance. To find out that she had been in cardiac arrest and was being lifeflighted to Columbus, it was a whirlwind, for sure.”
Kayla had survived. But her outlook still looked very bleak. After being flown to Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Garland spent four weeks in cardiac ICU, where a neurologist told Tracy that Kayla, if she did pull through, would likely not return to her state before the fall.
“We weren’t sure if Kayla was going to survive,” Grube said. “The first few days were kind of touch and go, and she was on a ventilator to help her breathe. They had her in a medical hypothermia to slow everything down and try to combat some of the brain damage, because she could go for a significant period of time without oxygen and blood to the brain. The neurologist told us that the longer that it took for her to recover functions from the initial episode, the less likely that it would be for her to recover.”
But ever the fighter, Kayla turned the tables on the odds.
After a month in intensive care, Garland was able to make a strong enough recovery to begin rehab, where Kayla started completely from scratch like most toddlers do.
“Kayla went to rehab five weeks in, and the neurologist didn’t have much hope that she would recover as much as she did,” Garland said. “She had to learn how to re-do everything: to walk, talk, and eat.”
But despite the doubts of Kayla’s neurologist, who felt that Garland could be in a vegetative state for the rest of her life, Kayla persevered.
With the help of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, strong family support, and even a visit from NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver and 26-time race winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. — Kayla showed incredible progress. On July 10, 2016, she started to walk with assistance. On July 29, she walked up and down stairs with assistance. And on August 6, she started to walk without assistance.
On August 24, 2016 — just over two and a half months after the devastating fall — Kayla officially graduated from treatment at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and returned home.
“As far as Kayla’s recovery is concerned, I attribute a lot of it to God,” Grube said. “I thank Him for keeping her with us everyday. I also attribute it to Kayla’s strength. She fought so hard to stay with us, recover, and prove all of her neurologists wrong. She could do everything that she could do before, just in a different way. It’s been amazing to watch her be so resilient and so strong at such a young age.”
With Kayla nearly back to where she was before the fall occurred, Garland, with the help of Bell, Michele King, and others within the District 11 Challenger League, began to play baseball over this past spring. And despite being blind, Garland, with the help of a beeping ball — also referred to as an audible ball — has collected hit after hit throughout the summer. In fact, Kayla’s hitting skills have improved so much that she doesn’t even need a beeping ball to collect hits.
“(The Challenger League) helps me with my strength,” Garland said. “Mike always helps me. He keeps me healthy and motivated. Sometimes, I feel like I want to quit, but I don’t.”
Kayla’s Mom, along with Pace, concur.
“For children who have deficits or visual loss, they can’t really participate in normal sports,” Pace said. “For there to be a league here that they can actually get out, play, and have fun in is awesome. It’s great to have that available for these kids.”
“It’s great for all of the kids involved because it gives them a sense of normalcy,” Grube said. “They’re not different here. They’re all special here, and they can do everything that any able-bodied person can do here. It’s amazing to see the goodness that comes out of this league.”
That was evident on Thursday evening, when Kayla, who simply expected just to play and have fun with her friends, got a big surprise from King, Bell, and the District 11 Challenger League when Pace — the same lady who showed incredible poise in a life-or-death moment for Garland — showed up to Kayla’s game to watch her play.
Pace, however, did a lot more than just watch Kayla. She threw pitches to Kayla — at Garland’s request, because Kayla believed that Pace was a better pitcher than Bell, her normal throwing arm. She fielded with Kayla. And she walked beside Kayla as the pair jotted around the bases.
“It meant a lot to me to have Melissa here,” Garland said. “I was definitely not expecting it, but it was a great surprise. Having Melissa here is one of the best things that I’ve ever experienced.”
“It was a huge honor just to be invited to be here a year later,” Pace said. “The family still remembers my name and remembers me. It’s a huge honor. “Her Mom (Tracy) has been wonderful. She reached out to me and contacted me through Portsmouth Ambulance. Then, to meet Kayla and be a part of their lives a year later, that’s truly a blessing. And aside from the loss of vision, Kayla’s doing really well. She’s running around here on the field, having a good time. There’s very minimal deficits, it looks like.”
That’s thanks to the poise that it took from all parties. First, there’s Josalyn for calling 911. Second, there’s Melissa for remaining calm and going on instincts. And last, but not least, there’s Kayla’s ability to continue to persevere despite the odds, which has truly allowed the 15-year old to round third base and head for home.
“Josalyn called 911 so quickly,” Grube said. “She was only 16 at the time, so for her to keep a cool head and immediately call 911 was a great help. Then Melissa and the EMT’s not only responded so quickly, but took the time to not give up on Kayla and continue working to shock her three times and give her several rounds of medication before they got her back. It was a combination of both of those things that have her here today.”
“It’s amazing to not only see Kayla survive from that, but thrive,” Pace said. “She’s happy and she’s healthy, and that’s incredible. It makes my job all worth it.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7