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By Erin Cofiell
SUNY Plattsburgh Catcher Alex Rodriguez knew this would be his last season in a Cardinals uniform. What he didn’t know was that running out of eligibility wouldn’t be the reason why.
In baseball, a pitcher throws a curveball to keep the hitter off balance. Sometimes, life can throw one, too.
For weeks, Rodriguez had been experiencing headaches. He had a sinus infection. He was sleepy.
Something wasn’t right.
Dr. Susan Durham is chief of neurosurgery at UVM Medical Center. She remembers when Rodriguez arrived at the hospital. “He went to an outside hospital where they did a head CT and they saw something in his right frontal lobe they initially thought may have been a brain tumor.” After a series of tests at UVM, Durham and her staff had a different diagnosis. “We presumed that because of the location that this was probably coming from his sinuses, and the fact that he had this history of having a cold for several weeks made us suspicious this was an infection and an abscess more than a tumor.”
“It was weird. Having that in my head is kind of weird,” said Rodriguez.
“They had said he needed surgery,” his uncle, Jacinto Diaz, recalls. His nephew was rushed into brain surgery the next morning, where he experienced some complications.
“He had a stroke as a result of the brain swelling from the infection and that stroke is in the area of the brain that controls the vision,” said Durham.
At 23 years old, Rodriguez had just been thrown the nastiest curveball of his career -- he can no longer see from his right eye.
“Physically, the hardest thing has been not seeing well,” said Rodriguez. “I see dark and blurry. I can see you, but I can’t see you perfectly.”
Cardinals Head Baseball Coach Kris Doorey was at the hospital the day of surgery. “In all honesty it was, ‘What did I do? How could I have done it better? How could I have done something different?’” he wondered. “I just remember holding his hand and crying. He’s just a 20-something year-old kid and to see that happen to him, and to know that all he really wanted to do was play baseball. The only reason he ever came to Plattsburgh was to play baseball."
Alex was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where his parents still live. They flew in to be by their son’s side at the UVM Medical Center. His aunt and uncle live in Middletown, N.Y., and have been instrumental in helping coordinate his care. Between medical bills, hotels and airfare, the costs were adding up. That’s when his aunt started a Go Fund Me page, and the community stepped up.
“I didn’t know how many people I had in my life until now. There’s so many people that have been helping me and supporting me in this ... it’s been great,” said Rodriguez.
More than $6,000 has been raised so far. Coach Doorey isn’t surprised. “It’s not a shock to me that our community did that, but it always gives you a warm feeling to know that your community cares about your athletes even when they’re not from here.”
Two months post-surgery, Alex visited with coach and his teammates before everyone headed home for the summer. He’s smiling, he’s laughing. He’s closer to being back to the old Alex.
“He had some smiles today. Last time he visited, he cried so I cried. Today, he was more jovial I guess, joking around with his teammates a little more,” said Coach Doorey.
He’s even stepped back up to the plate, taking swings in the batting cages. After all, when life keeps throwing you curveballs, you grab a bat and you keep swinging.
“He’s a fighter. He’s not going to stand down for anything. I know he’s going to try to come back, and we’re going to help him,” said Diaz. “As long as he can gain some vision back, I’ll be happy. I think we’ll all be happy, but I know he’s going to fight for more than that.”
Reprinted with permission from WVNY (ABC). Copyright 2016 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved.
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