When a player goes down, like Willis McGahee did last week, it’s hard not to imagine the worst. Concussion? Shattered facial bones? Paralysis? All awful things, but no one ever considers one injury that could be worse than all of them.
Kayla Hutcheson is a freshman at Walla Walla Community College. While scrambling for a loose ball in October, she collided with another player. At first it seemed like nothing serious — a bloody nose and a possible concussion. But Hutcheson’s roommates quickly noticed something was wrong - she couldn’t remember who they were.
Said Hutcheson’s coach, Bobbi Hazeltine:
“She didn’t know me, even though her roommates had told her I was coming. I started asking her questions and she didn’t know anything. She couldn’t read, she barely talked.”
When Hazeltine got Hutcheson out of bed, the young woman couldn’t walk without holding on to something.
When Hutcheson spoke, it was in the voice and diction of a little child.
Things got worse. “I took her to her room and showed her pictures on her wall and she didn’t know anyone,” Hazeltine said, still incredulous six weeks later. “I asked her parents’ names, her siblings … she shrugged at every question I asked.”
Her roommates, coaches, teachers and teammates increasingly had to take on the role of caretakers.
When Bart and Patty Hutcheson came to take Kayla home to Idaho, they found a network of support so tightly woven around their daughter that to remove her would have been detrimental, they believed.
Not only were Kayla’s teachers invested in keeping her learning - they passed her from class to class and offered assignment options - but she was getting stimulation that would be lacking at home, Bart said from Idaho. “We both work all day. Here, she would sit on the couch, do nothing but watch TV.”
It wasn’t an easy decision. “It went against every parental instinct, but we tried not to show her … but to leave her there, we had to fight down that urge to bring her home.”
The story, in the WALLA WALLA UNION-BULLETIN is alternately heartbreaking, like when it took Hutcheson 30 seconds to remember how to use a pencil, and humorous, like when she rediscovered how to send text messages:
At first, her spelling was atrocious, Hazeltine noted. “She would text me, writing ‘koach.’ Then, one day, all her spelling was perfect and I was sure everything had come back.”
She’d relearned the “T9,” or automatic spelling function, Hutcheson explained with a grin.
Hutcheson is still suffering from the effects of her accident, and has her good days and bad. There’s tentative hope she’ll fully recover, but everyone is prepared for the possibility she won’t.