FanPost

Miracle: The (thankfully ongoing) story of Jon Wilhite.

[baseballgirl note: I thought this was great and timely for a day when, quite honestly, it seems like nothing could get worse for the A's, and on a day when many of us are still affected by what happened at the game last night. If you have any silver lining about the remainder of the 2011 season, or any comments on this story, let's hear it. Game tonight is at 5:05PM]

April 10, 2009 LOS ANGELES TIMES:

For a young pitcher who struggled for years with an injured arm and doubts that he could cut it in big league baseball, Nick Adenhart's performance Wednesday night gave promise that he had finally arrived. But a few hours after the most impressive game of his brief career -- just seven miles from the mound where he threw six scoreless innings -- the 22-year-old right-hander was killed by an alleged drunk driver, the latest calamity in a baseball franchise haunted by a history of misfortunes. Adenhart and two friends were killed early Thursday morning when their car was broadsided by a driver who police said had a suspended license and a previous drunk driving conviction. The news of the young pitcher's death stunned friends, teammates and fans, some driving to the Fullerton intersection to place flowers and candles in the roadway and others going to Anaheim Stadium, seemingly just to be there.

The flowers have faded, the memorials at Anaheim Stadium have been taken down, and the national coverage has all but faded.  The man whose senseless act of driving while drunk and causing the tragedy has been convicted and sentenced to 51 years in prison and the families of all who were affected by that moment in time have had to learn to go through life with the scars they will carry. One man in this story will continue to carry not only the emotional scars of that brutal and violent moment, but will also continue to carry the physical scars as he was the sole survivor of the car that was struck. A man who should have died along with his friends due to the severity of his injuries.

That man is Jon Wilhite, living proof that miracles do happen.

Jon's injuries were extensive and life-threatening: He not only suffered a neck injury that required titanium rods and screws to fuse his skull and spine, but also two collapsed lungs, broken ribs, a broken scapula, a fractured lower spine and severe brain bleeding. Ninety-five percent of people with this kind of dislocation, sometimes called internal decapitation, die immediately. The rest are gravely impaired. When Jon arrived at the hospital, his head was literally held on by muscle and skin. "Only four other people are known to have recovered from atlanto-occipital dislocation", says UC Irvine spine surgery chief Dr. Nitin Bhatia, who fused Wilhite’s head and neck together with a titanium plate, rods and screws in a delicate five-hour operation. "He should have died, like everyone else in the car," said Bhatia.


Just a few months after the crash, Jon ambled up the mound at an A's game and threw out the first pitch. Many people don't even recover from simple surgery as quickly as Jon progressed from his injuries, and yet here was Jon, throwing a baseball and walking unassisted. He was at the game as a guest of the A's and his former teammate and friend Kurt Suzuki, and he and his family were flown at the expense of Lew Wolffe. Many of us here at AthleticsNation actively participated in fund raising efforts to help shoulder the cost of Jon's medical care. I think it is fair to say that we were all moved by the tragedy that Jon and the families involved endured and felt inspired to do what we could to help. 


A little over two years have passed since that fateful night, and I found myself going through some old photos recently when I stumbled upon photos I had from the game when Jon threw out the pitch. I was fortunate enough to meet Jon and his family that day, and I identified myself as a member of AthleticsNation. Jon's family expressed much gratitude to those at AN who reached out to help their family. I had a ball with me and had Jon and Kurt sign next to each other, a ball I eventually auctioned off here on AN, and donated the proceeds to Jon's recovery fund. Nico led the efforts here, as the good BlogFather that he is. Remembering all this made me wonder how Jon was doing these days, so I reached out to Jon with a few questions to find out how life is for him these days. 


OP: Jon, it's been a while since we have heard from you. The last time we saw you, you were just a few months removed from the crash, unbelievably throwing out the first pitch at an A's game. When you did, it was evident you were still physically affected by your injuries. How are you feeling now?


Jon: "Since I saw you last I have made huge strides physically.  I am feeling great and am even going on the occasional run and lifting weights 3 to 4 times a week.  I am living back by the beach in the Los Angeles area and have even been working for my dad in the frieght industry. I put back on all of the nearly 60lbs I lost and am feeling awesome. I still have very minimal mobility in my neck but I am getting used to it."


OP: You experienced something few in this world have experienced and hopefully never have to experience. Has it gotten easier to talk about it? If it has, do you struggle with things emotionally still, or have you found some peace?

 
Jon: "I feel with time it has got a little easier to talk about. Emotionally I have days where it seems tougher than others, but I have a great support staff that I can lean on and feel really comfortable sharing my feelings with."

 
OP: Have you been able to keep up with the medical expenses?


Jon:  "As far as the medical bills I am currently no longer paying on any of them and did not have to come up with much money out of pocket because of the generosity of The A's, Major League Baseball, and my local community.  I am very grateful for all of the support my family and I were given over the past two years or so."


OP: Now that all of the media attention has died down, what is your life like? How has this changed who you are and how you see the world?


Jon: "I feel as a person I am the same.  I just have a very healthy outlook on life.  I don't sweat a lot of the small things that I feel the majority of people do.  Life is meant to be enjoyed and I am doing exactly that."


OP:  You are good friends with Kurt Suzuki, and you guys were teammates at Cal Fullerton. How much do you follow Kurt's game? He's been struggling at the plate lately, are there any words of advice you think would help him?


Jon: "I have MLB Extra Innings and try and watch the majority of my teammates that are in the big leagues.  Kurt is gonna have a monster second half."

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Jon wanted me to be sure to thank the Suzuki's, the Cabrera's and AN for their huge effort in raising funds for his medical bills.


Thank you Jon for taking the time to share your story with us here at AN, and we wish you continued success and health in your life. You are truly an inspiration to us all.

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