Northfield teen faces long recovery after head injury
NORTHFIELD — A year and a half after a traumatic brain injury, local teen John Orcutt continues down the road to recovery, scheduled for head surgery later this week.
In March 2011, Orcutt, then 13, was participating in an indoor baseball practice at Pioneer Valley Regional School, when he was struck in the head by a stray practice ball.
At home, his condition worsened, and he was flown to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, where he was diagnosed with a brain aneurysm and stroke.
A piece of his skull had to be removed to alleviate pressure on his brain. Once the swelling had gone down, the bone flap was put back in.
Though he still had a long way to go, attending regular physical, occupational, and speech therapies, things were starting to look up for Orcutt. His speech has greatly improved, and he’s begun to regain the use of his right limbs, which were affected by the stroke. In the summer, he was even able to play in a recreational basketball league, as long as he wore a helmet.
But this fall, he had a disappointing development.
“John had just started fall basketball; he only played one game,” said his father, Ed Orcutt. “He came to us afterward, and said his head looked different. It did; it had started to sink in.”
An X-ray revealed that the bone flap had started to shrink, and would need to be replaced.
“The doctor said no more sports, even with the helmet,” said his father.
“John was heartbroken.”
An active kid, John Orcutt played several sports at Pioneer, and was looking forward to doing the same at Franklin County Technical School, where he started the fall as a freshman.
There lies another hurdle. Though he had missed much of the past two school years as he recovered from his injury, he was well on track at the tech school. He had only missed a few classes when attending doctors’ appointments.
But, after he has a synthetic bone flap put in Friday, he’ll be out of commission for several weeks while he heals.
“He’ll probably be out until after Christmas vacation,” said his father. Though he should be able to return to school to start the new semester, it will be longer before he can return to the playing fields.
“Hopefully, a year from now the new piece will be as hard as his skull,” said his father. “He should even be able to play sports without a helmet.”
That’s what keeps John Orcutt optimistic.
“He’s actually looking forward to the surgery,” said Ed Orcutt. “He wants to get his life back in order. He’s thrilled that he might not have to wear the helmet anymore.”
Though John misses his regular sports, he’s found a new one he can play while he recovers. At 5:30 p.m. every Wednesday, the Orcutts head to the French King Bowling Center for a teen bowling league.
John’s also looking forward to regaining use of his right arm, so he can pursue his new-found love of carpentry. Though he’s begun to try the trade at the tech school, he’s got to take it slow until his arm and hand are stronger.
“As a precaution, we’re shying away from having him use the bigger saws,” said his father. For the time being, John is in a more slow-paced program. “He’s bummed out about that, he’d like to work in a faster program, and be in the shop all day. It’s hard to explain to him that we’re just looking out for his safety.”
“He has movement in his right hand, but he can’t get any use out of it without a brace,” he said, though he no longer needs a leg brace to walk and run.
To help strengthen his arm, John has several different braces he uses to work the different muscles in the limb.
His MassHealth insurance has covered the bulk of his medical costs, but the family has had to pay for the braces out-of-pocket, and they weren’t cheap.
Luckily, they were able to buy the braces with help from donations and fundraisers in the community. The Orcutts remain grateful to all those that have helped them in their time of need, be it through donations, or by keeping an eye on the house, mowing the lawn, and feeding the animals when the family was at the hospital with John.
Ed and his wife Leann Orcutt have both been out of work on disability, and money has been getting tight.
“The day we were sitting in our driveway, and John was boarding the chopper for the hospital, I said I’d sell everything I own to make sure John has what he needs,” said Ed Orcutt.
It may come to that. He’s already sold his Harley Davidson, a vintage 1966 Ford Mustang, and a work truck. Their house may be next.
“We owe a lot on the house,” he said. “It’s just the three of us, if the bank takes the house and we have to downsize, it’s OK.”
Houses, cars, motorcycles and trucks are mere objects, and the Orcutts would gladly give them all for their son’s health.
“Now, we’re just asking that people keep John in their prayers as he heads into surgery Friday,” said Ed Orcutt.