The line drive seemed innocent enough – hard struck for sure – but Ridge assistant baseball coach Tom Blackwell was deft enough to turn in time, the ball hitting him square on the lower back. The 2003 incident before a game with Delbarton wasn’t something he thought bad enough to stop throwing batting practice.
He completed and went to the dugout where he stayed until the end of the game, but as the game progressed, Blackwell was being reminded something might be up in his stomach. Shoulder and arm pain and spasms reminded him of it. After all, Blackwell had been a trainer and he recalls asking trainer Scott Hoagland if he’d remembered something they had learned at school.
The ball had made a direct hit on Blackwell’s spleen, but Blackwell was lucky. The injury was akin to the injury Warren Hills’ quarterback Evan Murray suffered last Friday night, an injury that resulted in his death.
After the game, Blackwell went home and told his mother he wasn’t feeling well. She drove him to Morristown Medical Center where Blackwell was given a series of tests and was told he had suffered a split spleen, but it wasn’t removed. He spent five days in intensive care and wasn’t released until it was certain all bleeding had stopped.
“It was all about bleeding,” said Blackwell, now the longtime head coach at Ridge. “I never looked at it as a life threatening thing, but its made me think.”
The spleen’s role in the body has returned to the athletic forefront after Murray’s death attributed to last Friday night’s game against Summit in Washington. Doctor Ronald Suarez, the Morris County Medical Examiner, conducted an autopsy Monday and determined the cause of death was massive intra-abdominal hemorrhage (massive internal bleeding) due to a laceration of the spleen. The spleen was abnormally enlarged, thus making it more susceptible to injury.
A swollen spleen usually means mononucleosis or some other infection, said Dr. John P. Kripsak, the Bridgewater-Raritan High School team doctor.
He said that at any given time, 10 percent of the body’s blood supply can be found in the spleen, something about the size of a fist.
“That’s why when it bursts it’s so traumatic, it’s protected by the ribs and is pretty sturdy, but what happens, there is a capsule, a casing around it and when it becomes enlarged, the capsule becomes stretched and becomes more fragile and more susceptible to rupture,” he said. “Still, the incidents of this happening are very, very low, it’s something that doesn’t happen too often, but when it does happen, it’s obviously catastrophic, you really don’t have much time.”
Kripsak said the organ is vital, but can be removed, thus making people more susceptible to infection. Younger people would need to go get flu shots, pneumonia shots, or anything else to combat infectious diseases much earlier in life.
“Its like a filtration system, its very important, a vital organ, its, like a scavenger for the impurities in your body, its rather important to have, people without spleens are more likely to have infections, it is somewhat of an important organ in your body,” Kripsak said.
Staff Writer Harry Frezza: firstname.lastname@example.org