WESTFIELD — In the long and frightening month that has passed since Anthony Labin, 12, took a line drive to the temple during a baseball game in Cooperstown, N.Y., the young ballplayer has endured countless hours of intensive, inpatient therapy and has even undergone surgery to release the pressure in his brain. He has been relocated from one hospital to another without ever having the chance to see his friends, sleep in his own bed or play with his dog. But throughout it all, even when things looked pretty dark, Anthony never once complained.
“This kid is a rock,” said Anthony’s father, Ron Labin, during a recent interview with The Westfield Leader. “He’s staying positive, he’s working incredibly hard and he’s doing really well. He’s always been a strong kid, but this is something else. He’s really blowing everyone away.”
And now, almost a month to the date from his accident, Anthony is finally on his way home.
“We couldn’t be happier,” Mr. Labin said. “We still have a long road ahead of us, but he has made so much progress that we’re starting to allow ourselves to hope for a full recovery.”
Anthony was airlifted to Albany Medical Center in early July after being knocked unconscious during a tournament game in Cooperstown. There, surgeons were forced to remove a part of his skull to help alleviate the dangerous swelling in his brain. Once he was moved out of the intensive care unit, he was transported to Children’s Specialized Hospital in New Brunswick so that he could be closer to home.
“They have been an absolute godsend,” Mr. Labin said of the doctors, nurses, therapists and staff who have been helping Anthony along his path to recovery. “We consider them an extended family at this point. I honestly can’t say enough wonderful things about Children’s Specialized and the care we have gotten. I don’t know how this would have shaken out without their constant support.”
In the weeks that have passed, Anthony has made a full physical recovery.
“Once the swelling goes down a bit more, he’ll be taken back up to Albany to have that piece of his skull reattached,” Mr. Labin said, pausing a moment. “I know that’s a horrific sentence, certainly one you never expect to hear yourself saying so calmly about your own kid, but then again, this whole thing has been pretty unreal. It’s amazing what you learn when you have to.”
Mr. Labin and his wife, Marijo, have been alternating nights between Anthony’s hospital room and their home in Westfield, where Anthony’s brother, Nic, has been waiting out the summer.
“Every week, we get the whole family together for Sunday dinner at the hospital,” Mr. Labin said. “The boys are very close, and we’ve tried to give them as much time together as we can. We’ve been playing a lot of card games, watching movies together…it’s been good for all of us to have that one consistent day as a family. We’re really lucky. My job has been so supportive and understanding that I know I can focus on Anthony’s recovery without having to worry about anything else.”
Even though Anthony’s prognosis is certainly better than it was immediately following the accident, he still has a ways to go before he can get back up on the pitcher’s mound where he wants to be.
“The ball hit his temple at a high speed, which has led to some cognitive delays that we’re still working through,” Mr. Labin said. “Overall, he’s doing well. He’s improving at a good pace, but we’re not completely out of the woods just yet.”
Anthony was diagnosed with aphasia, a condition that causes patients with traumatic brain injuries to lose their abilities to understand and remember language.
“Sometimes, he’ll point to a deck of cards and say he wants ‘those things’ because the word ‘cards’ isn’t readily accessible,” Mr. Labin explained, adding that Anthony’s doctors have introduced tools like image boards to help him reconnect the world around him to the words he needs to describe it.
“We’ve been working with an incredible team here at Children’s and he’s making great progress,” Mr. Labin said. “He has a speech therapist, a cognitive therapist and an occupational therapist that he sees every day from about 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. during the week and even for a few hours on Saturdays. It’s really hard work, but he doesn’t give up, he doesn’t complain, he just keeps going.”
Now that Anthony is preparing to head home, Mr. Labin said he will continue to meet with all of his therapists on an outpatient basis. The family also will be working closely with Edison Intermediate School once school starts in the fall.
In the meantime, Mr. Labin said, well-wishes have been pouring in from Anthony’s friends, coaches, teammates and neighbors as well as from a few very unexpected but very special places.
“The response has been absolutely overwhelming,” Mr. Labin said. “We’ve had video calls with our church (Holy Trinity) and the Westfield Police Department, messages from the town, messages from Michael Kay and some of the other reporters at YES…Aaron Boone from the Yankees called him, the Mets sent him a huge box of stuff…it feels like the whole world is pulling for my son, and I can’t tell you what that means to us.”
Representatives from the Cooperstown stadium where Anthony was injured also have been in contact, Mr. Labin said, but the situation there is somewhat more complicated. According to witnesses, it took almost 45 minutes for Anthony to be loaded into an ambulance on the day of the accident.