PHOENIX — The word “miracle” can be overused in the sports world, with no offense intended to the 1969 New York Mets and others.
But it can apply.
The Diamondbacks were introduced to a miracle child — and the miracle man who saved him — before their game Tuesday night.
When 4-year-old Micah Andrews threw out the first pitch before the D-backs played the Rockies at Chase Field, he looked like just another young baseball fan, decked out in a red Diamondbacks jersey and waving to the crowd as he walked to the mound.
It seemed impossible to believe that this was the same boy who was internally decapitated in an automobile accident in the suburban Phoenix area two years ago.
“It put a smile on his face and a smile on ours,” said D-backs left-hander Wade Miley, who caught Micah’s pitch (pitches, actually, since the first one slipped out of his hand and Miley beckoned Micah to throw another).
Andrews was accompanied to the mound by Dr. Nicholas Theodore, another few steps in the long road they have traveled together.
“I would call this a miracle, absolutely,” Dr. Theodore said.
“He has every chance now for a normal life.”
Theodore, chief of neuro trauma and spine surgery at the renowned Barrow Neurological Institute at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix, performed the emergency surgery that saved Micah’s life in August, 2010.
Micah, then 2, was strapped into his car seat in the back of the car in which his mother, Heather, was riding when another vehicle slammed into the front side of their vehicle. Heather and her 4-year old daughter, Elizabeth, were not seriously injured, but the impact was so jarring that Micah’s skull was separated from his spine.
He was carefully rushed to St. Joseph’s, one of the premier facilities in the US in caring for brain and spine injuries. In a surgery that took two hours, Dr. Theodore reattached the ligaments that held the skull to the spinal cord. It was a difficult, precise procedure.
“Micah’s injury was very severe,” Dr. Theodore said. “The good news in his case was that the spinal cord was not significantly injured. So, neurologically, he was doing quite well. It was touch and go for awhile. With that injury, getting somebody positioned and ready for surgery, any wrong movement can cause injury to the spinal cord.”
The injury was treated by implanting a titanium loop to reattach the base of the skull to the spine, Dr. Theodore said. A piece of the patient’s rib holds the rod in place. Dr. Theodore placed sandbags around Micah’s head to stabilize it, and Micah’s head was taped down.
His father, John Andrews, who was not involved in the accident, met his family at the hospital.
“At the time we heard what injury he had, it was shocking to us. It was as if someone was speaking about someone else’s child. ‘No, that can’t be. Not our child,’ ” Andrews said.
“Then the doctor showed us the images. But he reassured us that he could fix it. He didn’t tell us he would walk again; he didn’t guarantee that. It was something that we were certainly praying for. Sure enough, he came out of his coma. He moved his arms and legs.
Micah traded his favorite handshake — high-five, fist bump, nuggets — with his family and friends near the D-backs dugout on Tuesday before firing off his first pitches to Miley.
“What a great kid. High-five. Handshake. He did everything. To know what he’s been through and see what he’s doing now, that’s awesome. He was excited to be out there,” Miley said.
“He’s been talking about this for so long,” John Andrews said.
Micah has lost some mobility in his neck, although it was not noticeable, and is still undergoing therapy.
“To see how well he does . . . every time I see him he gets better and better,” Dr. Theodore said.
“He’s not going to play football. But he can play baseball.”