As hospital staff wheeled Beau Carlson into a recovery room in the wee hours of Sept. 8, doctors weren’t sure if the Wahkiakum County sophomore would ever walk again.
But on Tuesday, just six months after he suffered a life-threatening head injury in a Sept. 7 football game against Adna, Beau will lace up a pair of cleats and play the Mules’ first baseball game of the year.
“You can just lay there and give up, or you can just keep fighting,” he said in as recent interview. “And I knew I wanted to play baseball.”
Regaining normal function after severe head trauma is uncommon, and doctors told the family that Beau is literally one in a million after being able to walk and eat solid food within a week of the injury. Baseball was consistently on his mind many times during his recovery from three surgeries.
“It’s been a big goal of his,” said Leihanna Carlson, Beau’s mom. “It’s something he set in his mind to accomplish. His dad and I are a little bit nervous, but Beau is a mindful kid.”
During the recovery period, his perseverance never faltered. Beau had been at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland for 20 days, which followed a few weeks at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. Beau told Leihanna, “Mama, I want to go outside.”
It was quiet, and dark, which was good because Beau was extremely sensitive to light and noise. Leihanna wheeled him downstairs for a period of only eight minutes.
But she said it was most glorious eight minutes. Beau said, “Mama, we did it,” she recalled.
“He’s always just had this mindset that he will to do things bigger, better and smarter,” Leihanna said.
Perhaps nobody will ever know for sure whether it was stubbornness, humor or luck, but it’s irrelevant to the many who are just happy Beau’s recovery is moving quickly.
“It feels great,” said his brother Brody Carlson. “Compared to what he’s come from, he couldn’t remember walks he liked. It’s amazing that he’s out here playing. It scares the crap out of me, honestly, because ground balls could still hurt him. We’re working around that, wearing a helmet right now for him, and I don’t know. I think it’s amazing. I’m loving it.”
Wahkiakum baseball coach Marc Niemeyer added: “It’s a miracle. How? It’s a rare case, and I think a lot of it has to do with heart and his passion, and his fight to be healthy.”
Beau wears metal inserts that fit snugly in his ballcap, and he wears a different batting helmet than he would have last season. Doctors haven’t issued any warnings, Beau said, and believe that he’ll be just fine as long as he wears his protective equipment. (His doctor at the University of Washington could not be reached for comment.)
A few things swung Beau’s way.
An Adna parent, who is also a Seattle firefighter, was at the football game. He told the volunteer paramedics that Beau needed to be rushed to a hospital, which may not have happened otherwise and likely saved Beau’s life.
After surgeons and other professionals worked some medical magic, though, there came a point where it was all up to Beau. About a week after the incident, he began making wise-cracks, something he’s known for.
One of them came when a few coaches and friends were visiting.
“Hey coach,” Beau said to football coach Eric Hansen. “Looks like you lost some weight.”
Beau grinned, and looked toward another coach.
“And you found it!”
The humor made the recovery a little more tolerable, and gave those around him additional hope for a full recovery.
“There were days, you’re just having a bad day, and then it just takes your brain off the things that are going on in it,” Beau said after wrapping up baseball pracitice on Tuesday. “Tristan (Collupy) and Ashden (Niemeyer) – all my buddies would come up (to the hospital) every single day. You get someone new there, and you’re messing around with them. Like Niemeyer or a couple other friends, and you’re joking with them. I don’t know what it was, but it just stuck the whole way through. Nurses in the hospital, they’d get off work and come to my room after work just to have a good laugh.”
His personality shined, and doctors were encouraged. He underwent memory tests, which were frustrating because he likes to win, but he couldn’t remember the numbers. He went back to school in January, and he’s finding that he can do the work but at a slower pace than his peers. There’s been anger, too, so the jokes were an important expression.
“It just showed his real humor coming back, just being himself,” Brody said. “Everyone knows how big of a smartass he is. It’s great to see him coming back and showing humor.”
On the baseball diamond, Beau has always been a quality player. He logged considerable time during Wahkiakum’s trip to the final four in 2017 as an eighth-grader when he could play high-school ball due to the high-school’s small size. Beau played third base and served as the Mules’ designated hitter for most of last season. He often hit in the key cleanup position.
Hitting a baseball was never an problem, but personality has been one of his strongest assets.
“Beau is a big spark. He’s got a fire,” coach Niemeyer said. “He’s got a good bat. He’s had one since he was little. But to me he’s the firecracker. When Beau gets fired up, he’s really good at being real positive and picking people up. If a guy struggles at the plate or makes an error, he’s the first one that’s going to pick you up. Beau’s always been like that.”
By winter, Beau was spending time thinking about baseball. He’s played since before kindergarten, and it was a happy day when doctors cleared him for batting practice.
“As soon as I got cleared to start swinging, I was in the cage every single day,” Beau said. “Coach had open cage every day after practices. I don’t think I missed one or two of them over two weeks. I didn’t want to be bad. My favorite part of baseball is hitting. That’s my best part of baseball, and I’m going to succeed at it. I didn’t care if it took until midseason for me to get there. I think it’ll still take some time, live pitches, we still have to see more of those.
“I’m very surprised at how well I’m seeing (the ball). ... I feel like I’m hitting it just like it was last season, if not better.”
There’s still some concern for his health.
Beau’s second surgery was to address an infection stemming from the craniotomy, a surgery during which a piece of the skull was removed immediately after the injury to relieve pressure on his brain. The infection could return, and he won’t be considered in the clear until Thanksgiving. His third surgery involved replacing the portion of his skull removed in the first operation.
He won’t be racing motocross and isn’t planning on playing football. There are some day-to-day impediments, like needing to take things a little slower and resting more than he used to. Life isn’t likely to be the same for Beau or his family. Life remains, though, and for the next few months, baseball will be a large part of it.
“I’m so so so excited for (the first game),” Beau said. “Win or lose, hitting well or not, I’m all around just excited.”