Frisbee Player Undergoes Emergency Surgery

Photo by Jill Anzalone.

Kaleb Smith, a player for the New Paltz Ultimate Frisbee team, was rushed to the hospital Saturday, Nov. 7 after suffering a head injury during a game in Princeton, New Jersey.

It was 11:30 a.m. when the New Paltz Ultimate Frisbee team, The Gunx, was on the verge of victory in the second tournament game of the Fall Brawl series. A Callahan play, when a player catches the other teams’ thrown disc in their own end zone, was a maneuver Smith was desperate to make.

While about to make the play, Smith encountered his marked opponent on the enemy team who tried to fake him out. Smith said the player spun without looking and collided his head against Smith’s temple.

“I didn’t see it coming,” Smith said. “But once I was hit, the pain brought me to the ground.”

Smith didn’t go to the hospital immediately, only suffering from periodic headaches. He said he didn’t realize something was wrong until an air horn rang out during the game that caused his eardrum excruciating pain.

Walter Roosa, the captain of the Men’s Ultimate Frisbee team, said he saw Smith on a side hill writhing in pain. After being checked out by tournament medics, Roosa took Smith to a hospital as a precaution after asking him if he wanted to go.

Being the closest big medical trauma center, the Saint Mary Medical Center in Langhorne, Pennsylvania was Roosa’s best bet to help Smith. Roosa said Smith’s abnormal pain scared him the most, and how all Smith could talk about was wanting the pain to stop.

“I remember him describing the pain as if someone was stabbing his eardrum full of needles, trying to rip it out,” Roosa said.

Upon arriving at the hospital, Roosa said Smith was taken into multiple rooms for CT scans and tests to check for concussions or other abnormalities. After he didn’t come back from one of his tests, Roosa learned that Smith had gone into emergency surgery.

“The doctors found that an artery had burst between the lining of his brain and skull, causing the blood to put pressure on his brain,” Roosa said. “The doctors had to open his skull to repair the artery.”

After the surgery, 57 staples were used to close the incision. After 10 minutes of being off sedation, his body was responding well. The doctor recommended to family and friends that he rest but insisted that he was alright. Smith must take two to three months off to recover from his injury.

Smith said he will be completing his schoolwork over the winter due to his injuries preventing him from returning the rest of the fall semester. He said he won’t play frisbee again this year, and is not sure about next year. He currently has trouble seeing in one eye and difficulty texting and typing.

Stacy Smith, Kaleb’s mother, said her son is eating and responding well. He still suffers from frequent headaches but is regaining his strength more and more with each passing day. She said that as of Nov. 16, he has had the staples removed. He has since followed up with neurological and physical rehabilitation appointments.

“He is still having double vision issues with a lot of pressure and pain on the left side of his head,” Stacy Smith said. “He will have to do outpatient therapy at home with us.”

Smith’s friends, family and some of his Frisbee teammates visited him at the hospital. He said they were supportive and were very eager to see him. After returning to his home and going through some therapy, Smith has been cleared to perform some light exercises on his own. He is one step closer to returning his life to normal.

“Now I am taking it day by day and just working on getting better so I can return to my regular life,” Smith said.