PETER PRENDERGAST ’16
EDITOR IN CHIEF
Inspiration can be found at the intersection of tragedy and sports. Often, the easiest themes to recognize- beating the odds and defying the most dire of circumstances- resonate most sincerely with us. In this vein, we are drawn to the stories of Jackie Robinson, who stood up to discrimination; Stuart Scott, and Jimmy Valvano, who battled cancer with unprecedented grace and positivity. These stories however, are not exclusive to just the greats, they are written everyday.
Trinity’s Chris Leach ’17 should have died last spring. He looked me in the eye and told me so, just a couple of weeks ago, but today he is healthy, back at Trinity. His story is remarkable–a testament to his perseverance and an inspiration for anyone affected by illness, either their own or a loved one’s.
Leach, a native of Montgomery, New Jersey, transferred to Trinity from Lehigh during his sophomore year. “It was definitely weird to transfer midway through college,” he remembers. “People weren’t really expecting another player to come on to the [baseball] team at that point, everyone had a pretty good idea of what the roster would look like.” Leach has since found a family in his team; something that he would appreciate more in the aftermath of his ordeal.
His story began a little over a year ago. He began to feel ill; After his symptoms worsened to the point of intense pain, he was brought to Princeton Hospital in New Jersey. Leach spent ten days in a coma resulting from dual lung failure. He was moved to Penn Presbyterian Hospital, and hooked up to an ECMO machine. ECMO works by effectively bypassing the lungs, keeping the patient breathing. This gave doctors the opportunity to perform the surgeries that saved Leach’s life. “I’m thankful to have gotten some of the best medical care in the world. I should really be dead right now,” he explained.
Leach miraculously pulled through, yet his recovery was far from over. He lost forty pounds during the month that he was hospitalized. “I lost so much weight that initially I couldn’t walk,” he said. “They let me out of bed for the first time when they decided I was cleared and good to go. I went to put my feet on the ground and my legs just collapsed.”
Leach moved to a rehab facility near his house, where he began grueling physical and cognitive therapy. He progressed slowly, at first only managing to walk a few feet at a time. Returning to baseball remained a constant source of motivation during his rehabilitation. Doctors told him that he may never be able to run again. His desire to get back on the field helped him prove them wrong. “In my mind, baseball was the big push for me during my rehab,” he said. “It would have been really easy to just say ‘okay, I’m done, I’m tired, I feel like shit,’ but the idea of playing again really helped me get through tough days of rehab. It helped me make a full recovery.”
After it all– the illness, the coma, the surgery, the recovery, the rehab– Leach recognizes the support from his friends and family as the most profound aspect of his ordeal. “The coaching staff came to see me when I was in the rehab hospital. The captains from last year, and a couple of my close friends came too,” Leach explained. “All these people came to see me which was a very surreal experience to cap off being done with all of it.”
Head coach of Trinity’s baseball team, Bryan Adamski, remembers how Leach’s illness affected the team. “When Chris got sick last year, it was really tough on the team. We tell our guys to be grateful for the opportunity to play college baseball, and Chris missing the 2015 season illustrates why,” he said. “One day you’re working out, preparing for another season, lifting, throwing, catching bullpens– the next thing you know, you’re in the hospital fighting for your life. It’s not easy to start from scratch, but he put his head down and fought to return for his teammates and for the love of the game.”
People return from near death experiences differently. Chris Leach is a realist. He came back from his trauma with a newfound appreciation for his loved ones, his friends and everything we take for granted. “For me, the big thing was when I came out of it, I was able to really take a moment and kind of just appreciate everything going on around me,” he said. “You realize how awesome people in your life are and how good it is to have them support you.”
Leach also uncovered a new appreciation for donating blood. While he was in the hospital, he was bleeding into his lungs. He needed of over fourteen units of blood, which thankfully he received. He explained, “You don’t realize it until you’re the one who needs [blood]. fourteen strangers saved my life.” Since then, Leach has been an active participant in local blood drives at Trinity and at home.
Besides a few scars here and there, Chris Leach has healed fully from his illness. Although he is recovering from a UCL injury he sustained last fall and temporarily limited in his activity on the field, Leach is happy to be back in school and eager to be a part of his team once again.
Leach’s story has a moral; it may be old and familiar, yet it is as important as any other: It is how you move forward from tragedy that truly matters. Chris Leach can attest to that, and thankfully his story had a happy ending as well.
PETER PRENDERGAST ’16