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Like any great baseball player, Jonathan Batcheller knows that winning a game isn’t just about hitting a home run. Sometimes, it’s about endurance, strength and tenacity. It’s also about facing disappointments, taking near misses and strikeouts –– but most of the time –– it’s about getting up, dusting off and focusing on the next inning of play.
And, as he knows all too well, those athletic strengths and traits also hold true for life’s challenges.
During his outstanding career of high school baseball, football and basketball, with a record of athletic accomplishments and impressive stats, Batcheller made a foolish split-second decision one night, and soon learned how tough the opposition could be. He had never encountered a challenge like the opponent he would face during that hour of darkness in May 2008.
It was Memorial Day weekend, and in a horrendous free-wheeling car accident, he was thrown into a desperate fight to stay alive.
And, miraculously, he did.
Now, perhaps unbelievably, Jonathan has completed his second year of college, away from home, and it’s only three years after the accident.
Years that have been filled with hard work, tenacity and strength –– you bet.
He also continues to train and vie for that opportunity to play baseball, and to earn a living doing it.
However, the journey hasn’t been easy. According to Jonathan, the rehabilitation exercises weren’t so bad, but it was extremely difficult dealing with the mental frustrations. He had to learn how to function all over again – how to breathe on his own, how to sit up, walk, talk, grip, stand . . . everything. His short term memory, which is better now, was inoperative.
In the hospital, Jonathan spent the first 15 days in a coma, and as he started waking up, doctors began reducing medications while keeping him heavily sedated.
He doesn’t remember, but his family and friends remember it well as they prayed fervently, constantly, and around the clock, and at his bedside asking for a full recovery. Doctors offered little hope and a slim chance for survival, maybe 5-percent. The prognosis was dim, but Ava, along with many other communities, were praying for an upturn in his condition.
Many cheering for his life didn’t even know Jonathan, and he didn’t know them. But, that really didn’t matter, the prayers were heard.
Jonathan’s injuries were extensive as he sustained tremendous damage to his brain and body. He had a diffuse axonal injury (shearing of the brain), cranial nerve damage, a broken neck in two-places, and bones in his left arm, from shoulder to elbow, were crushed. It was also determined his body had actually spun around in the driver’s seat three times, all the while enduring head trauma and severe body blows. He was thrown around like a rag doll.
During recovery, the walls in his hospital room were adorned with posters displaying high school memories, athletic accomplishments and team successes, and special photos of classmates, friends, and family. Jonathan says when he looked at the walls he would talk to himself and say, “you can’t give up – giving up is not in me.”
Today, Jonathan exudes strength, resiliency and determination, both mentally and physically. He walks, talks and acts just as a young man his age should. His physical appearance in no way conveys the harsh injuries his body and mind have endured. There are scars on his left arm, and a trach scar at the base of his throat, but unless someone tells the story, you’d never suspect that this young man has traveled such a difficult path.
However, Jonathan was not alone in this journey. Stephen Wallace, a passenger in the car, played a timely part in saving Batcheller’s life. Wallace’s injuries from the crash were minimal, and even after seeing the severe wounds inflicted upon his friend, he reacted with clarity and ran for help. But, just like Jonathan, many of the details from the mishap continue to escape his memory.
According to Stephen’s father, Ron Wallace, Stephen vaguely recalls making his way to a nearby home, beating on the door and yelling until the owners responded. And, even though Stephen recalls bits and pieces of what happened that night, he doesn’t remember returning to the crash scene with help and falling to his knees in a ditch, to pray. That’s a blur.
Stephen, who had just completed his sophomore year, is a longtime friend with “Batch”, a friendship that stems from his older brother Taylor. The boys played ball together for years, and Jonathan was considered family. They had all grown up together.
As a recent graduate of Ava High School, Jonathan earned a full ride to Three Rivers College in Poplar Bluff, with a baseball scholarship. He had lettered in three different sports all four years in high school. Unfortunately, the opportunity never materialized.
But, the aspiration to play team baseball continues to be a heartfelt goal, and those who know him readily acknowledge, Jonathan has the winning attitude and faith to achieve the dream. He has worked audaciously, and maybe even a little defiantly, to regain his physical strength and agility.
He is devoted to working out, and pushes hard to fine-tune his athletic skills.
In fact, he has exceeded every marker placed before him, and yet, throughout the journey, his faith and resiliency have positively impacted many. His optimistic spirit touched lives, and hearts. Has it been easy – no. A miracle, absolutely.
Medical statistics report 90% of head trauma injuries like Jonathan’s, end in death; and the 10% that do survive will face severe handicaps.
Jonathan admits life has changed drastically. He now enjoys the little things he didn’t notice before.
He also takes photographs –– photos of bright blue skies with big white clouds, or weathered barns standing in lush green pastures, or brilliant sunsets. The scenes are beautiful, vibrant with color, and peaceful.
This coming fall semester, upon return to North Arkansas College, he is enrolled in a photography class. He’s also ready to play baseball.
Family and friends were always important to Jonathan, but now they hold a special place in his heart and in his story. He is awestruck, and thankful for the huge outpouring of support from community, and the on-going commitment and prayers from local churches. It made a difference.
And, for Jonathan, even though the vision and dreams he held for his life have been altered, his faith has never wavered. He continues to stand strong and maintain a positive game-face.
In fact, his doctors will verify, if you tell him it’s not possible –– watch out, he will prove you wrong. That’s just the way he is.
Wonderful and fulfilling events await this young man. There are also lessons to be learned from his gut-wrenching experience. But today, there is true victory in the outcome, and as a community, we had the privilege of witnessing the miracle.
And, that’s significant, that’s what counts.
What’s in store for Jonathan with his “you can’t give up” perseverance, and “it will happen” attitude? No one knows for sure.
But, Jonathan has life anew, and he still has dreams.
He also has an indomitable spirit, you can see it in his smile. He finds strength in his commitment to God, and has determination for his goals.
Indeed, it will be an adventure.
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Editor’s Note: Jonathan spent 17 days in intensive care; a total of 30 days in the hospital; 3 weeks of in-patient rehabilitation; and out-patient rehabilitation, 4 months.
Jonathan is presently home from college enjoying summer break, and will return to campus in the fall. He trains each evening at the Wellness Center with my son, Michael Shiverdecker and Kyle Schillinger. They assist him in his training, work outs and weight regimen.
And, as a sidebar, Jonathan is looking for a summer job, if you know of anything please give him a call, 417-300-4131.