East softball player recovers from spinal injury (video)
Citizens Medical Center is only a five minute drive from the Victoria Youth Sports Complex.
But as JoAnn Garcia sat in the front seat an ambulance with her daughter, Jodie, strapped down to a stretcher in the back, the drive seemed to last a whole lot longer than that.
"It was the longest ride ever," JoAnn said
Jodie had collided with teammate Whitney Garley minutes earlier chasing down a fly ball in right center field against Gregory Portland.
"You see it happen on TV with professional athletes and amateurs. You see football players with head injuries like that," said Ernie Garcia , Jodie's father. "But I never thought it would happen at a softball game. I've never seen that serious of an injury."
Garley bounced back up. Jodie lifted herself up off the ground with her arms, but fell right back down.
The senior couldn't use, or feel her legs.
"I was getting frustrated because I was wondering why I couldn't feel my legs," she recalled. "I was shaking because I was nervous, and then I started getting cold because it was freezing."
From the stands, Jodie's parents looked on wondering why their daughter wasn't getting up.
"I thought maybe she just got the wind knocked out of her and I just knew she was going to get up," JoAnn said. "When me and Ernie got there I knew it was serious."
The Garcia family wouldn't know it until the next day, but Jodie had just suffered a spinal cord concussion.
"I was very scared," Jodie said. "Usually when I get hurt I'm like 'I'll be fine' but this time I knew something was wrong. I knew it was really serious."
DIAGNOSING THE INUJURY
After a night at Citizens Medical Center, Jodie was taken to the San Antonio Military Medical Center, where a team of doctors were waiting for the Garcia's to arrive. The doctors immediately got to work.
They put Jodie through a series of tests, including an MRI. Those tests were inconclusive.
The doctors had told the Garcias it was either her brain not communicating with her lower body to work or it was something with her spinal cord that caused the paralysis.
"That was the scary part," JoAnn said.
After going through another MRI, this time with contrast dye that helps illuminate small fractures, the discovery was made.
Jodie had a spinal cord concussion, which in the grand scheme of things, was a positive outcome.
A spinal cord concussion is generally caused by a rapid change in velocity following trauma, such as collision of two or more players moving at full speed and hitting one another. It's a common injury in the NFL. In 2009, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered one when two defenders sandwiched him and hit the ground hard.
In that case, Roethlisberger couldn't feel team doctors sticking his arm with a pin. In Jodie's case, she couldn't feel doctors using a needle to prick her legs.
"I could see the blood coming through and . it was my baby," JoAnn said emotionally. "It was scary watching her, watching my daughter. She was scared. I was scared for her."
Nothing was broken and the feeling would return to her legs shortly. A full recovery was only going to take a couple weeks.
"About Friday afternoon, I was like 'Oh, I'll be fine,'" Jodie said. "It wasn't anything too serious. I was just glad nothing was broken. It was kind of good news to me because I knew I was going to recover after that.
"I looked at the positive side of it. I could walk, so that was good."
GETTING BACK TO 100 PERCENT
The rehabilitation process began that first week and Jodie had her sights on returning to the field in the regular season finale against Calallen, just two weeks after colliding with Garley.
But it wouldn't be easy. The first week and a half Jodie was confined to a wheelchair.
"It was a relief because my legs would be rested for the playoffs," Jodie said with a laugh. "At school, I got so mad because I couldn't just sit there. It was irritating. I wanted to be in the desk. I wanted to walk around. I just didn't have that strength yet."
Jodie would have to rebuild some of the strength in her legs, more so in her left because it had gotten much weaker than her right. She fixed that by walking around with ankle weights. However, most of her rehab was just doing stretches.
"I heat my back for about 10-15 minutes, then I ice my left leg because I'm still working on my strength. Then I do some stretches to stretch my back out and then my legs," Jodie said. "The first week was hard, but now it feels really good doing stretches. After I go through therapy, I feel really good at practice."
The senior had just a few weeks left in the regular season and playoffs and, after suffering a serious injury, could've easily not returned to the field.
However, that was never an option in Jodie, or her parents' minds.
"You know, this is all she does," Ernie said. "That's the only activity she plays and she likes it. It's hard to take away something that she likes so much."
"The team," Jodie said simply when asked what motivated her to comeback. "I told myself I was doing it for them, not for myself."
Everybody knew Jodie would come back. What they didn't know was how fast it would take for her to get back in the lineup.
BACK IN ACTION
Jodie and her dad sat in the doctor's office talking about that night's game against Calhoun. It was the second-to-last game of the regular season and the Titans were fighting for a playoff spot.
It had been just 12 days since Jodie suffered the spinal cord concussion and her recovery was going well.
"My doctor said 'Well, you're looking really good, so you can play if they need you.,'" Jodie recalled. "I just smiled and was like yeah okay. From there he could tell I was ready and I was."
"She went straight to coach with that note," JoAnn said.
As the Lady Titans' lineup was being announced in Calhoun, the words "No. 2, Jodie Garica" were announced and everybody in the stands, Calhoun fans included, applauded her return.
Jodie wasn't supposed to play in that game. She was there if another player had to come out. Her parents certainly weren't expecting to she Jodie out in the field.
"We weren't expecting her to jump right in," Ernie said.
Of course, in the first inning, in a strange twist of irony, Garley was hit by a pitch and had to come out of the game.
From the stands, her parents watched excitedly and nervously.
"I was worried she might over extend herself or dive for a ball," JoAnn said. "I didn't know if she would overexert herself lunging or falling. The weather wasn't great. I was happy for her, because it was were she wanted to be."
Playing in left field, one ball was hit to Jodie. However, she kept herself from diving for the ball when it fell just a few feet in front of her.
"I was like 'catch it' but I couldn't do that to myself," Jodie said. "I wanted to catch it and watching the ball drop right in front of you is really irritating."
Jodie has fully recovered. She still does some therapy, but she is back to 100 percent.
While the Lady Titans' season ended in the first round of the playoffs, both Jodie and her parents are just happy her injury wasn't too serious.
"It felt really good," Jodie said. "In the hospital I was thinking about everything I needed to work on when I get released. It's a good feeling to be able to go out and play like we had. I knew had to come back 10 times better than before I got hurt."