Family speaks out after son collapses at LaGrange College - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

EXCLUSIVE: Family speaks out after son collapses at LaGrange College

By Zaneta Lowe  - bio | email 

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - September 12th, 2010, the first day of baseball practice at LaGrange College for John Gaston.  He'd graduated from Blessed Trinity in the spring, a team that won the state title a few years back.

The outfielder also played in the prestigious East Cobb program.  John tore his ACL in a football injury, but his parents say the lack of division one recruitment afterwards didn't sideline his dream of playing college baseball.

After all, he'd played since he was a toddler.

"Oh , since he was four," says Jan Gaston, John's mom.

John's father, for whom he's named, was just as excited for his son.  "I went and watched him practice for the day."

After a while, Gaston says he headed home to Alpharetta, only to be turned back around.

"The trainer called me and just said that we just want to let you know we think that John has overheated, that was the first call," says Jan.

But it wouldn't be the last.  John had reportedly collapsed in the batting cage.

"When he went up to bat, he actually squared off to bunt and they said he fell straight backwards.  They went up to him and he was out of it, he was in shock so they immediately started to ice him down and they called 911," says John's father.

News Leader 9 obtained a copy of the 911 call:

Dispatcher: "Troup 911."

Caller: "Yes, we had a guy overheat at practice, we're at the LaGrange College baseball field."

Dispatcher: "What kind of symptoms is having?"

Caller: "He's overheated, he's, his eyes are kind of, kind of lazy."

Dispatcher: "Are you putting cold water on him?"

Caller: "Yes we are treating him."

Dispatcher: "Alright, we're getting them on the way."

The Gastons never made it to LaGrange because after being seen at a local ER, John was airlifted to the Medical Center in Columbus.  It was there the Gastons were met by a team of neurosurgeons with devastating news.

"He said it didn't look good at all, he said, I saw 104 one time, but your son's body temperature got up to 106 degrees, so I'm going from okay, it's not a big deal to you know, my son may die," says John's father.

The Gastons say doctors told them John had swelling around the brain and needed immediate surgery.

"They actually had to put a shunt into his head basically to relieve the brain pressure and to monitor the pressure," John's father adds.

He was later placed in an induced coma.  "He asked for a piece of paper to write things down because he wanted to tell us something. He asked where am I and what happened," says Jan.

Jan showed us some of what John tried to scribble, he writes, what day is it, is it Sunday?

John's parents say he turned around, but then suffered a seizure.  He was hospitalized for weeks and had a total of about three months of therapy.

"I wouldn't wish anyone to ever have to go through that, it's hard for us to talk about but it was very, very traumatic," says John's dad.

The Gastons filed a lawsuit against LaGrange College in October 2010 naming the school and head baseball coach Kevin Howard.

"We believe that LaGrange College and the coaching staff and athletic trainers were negligent and we believe that led to John Gaston's heat stroke and the brain injury that he suffered as a result," says Jason Crawford, a Columbus based attorney representing the Gastons.

Among several things, the suit alleges players didn't get enough water breaks and the trainer wasn't at practice, one Crawford says lasted three and a half hours in 96 degree heat.

"We believe that if someone with proper training had been present to have recognized the situation that was developing with John Gaston, this whole mess would never have happened," adds Crawford.

"You know the NCAA has strict rules or guidelines that are supposed to be adhered to and they obviously weren't," says John's father.

We contacted LaGrange College for an interview, they declined, but a spokesperson released the following statement:

"The well-being and safety of all our students is of highest importance to the college. We are proactive and intentional in ensuring the safety of our student-athletes at all times. Regarding this incident from last September, we are certain we took all reasonable measures to protect our players. Due to pending litigation, we simply cannot comment further on the specifics."

John was on vacation during our interview, and also advised by attorneys not to speak with the media because of the lawsuit.  His parents say he's doing better, even taking classes at Georgia Perimeter College, but his baseball dreams won't ever be a reality.

"Here's a kid that played his whole life to play college baseball and never got to play his first game," says John's dad.  Despite the challenges, John's father said this about his son. 

"I would say he realizes that he was given a second chance"

That's the reason the Gaston's say they're speaking out, because of families not as fortunate.

Like those of the two, Georgia high school football players that died recently.

"We heard that they both passed and it just, I had a pit in my stomach, I feel so bad for the parents, it's just, something has to be done about it."

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