Riding her bike, that’s all she was doing. Riding her bike two weeks ago Wednesday on her driveway in Staten Island, NY. Riding her bike, just like any 7-year-old would.
Then it happened — a moment that Reese Marquis might never remember, a moment that her parents and so many close to her will never forget.
Reese’s father Jason, a right-handed pitcher for the Minnesota Twins, was at spring training in Fort Myers, Fla., when he got the first call, waiting to go to dinner with two of his agents, Seth Levinson and Keith Miller.
Reese had fallen off her bike. She was headed to the hospital. Headed there because Marquis’ wife, Debbie, and father-in-law, Frank Masseria, sensed immediately that something was wrong. As Jason puts it, Reese is “not a drama queen,” not one to show pain.
But by the time she got to the hospital, her grandfather holding her in his arms, she was white as a ghost.
Jason received a second call at dinner. Reese was in an ambulance headed to a different hospital, one that had a trauma center, Staten Island University. Her vital signs were dropping. She was suffering from internal bleeding — bleeding that was so severe, she would lose 3 1/2 pints of blood.
Riding her bike, that’s all she had been doing. But Reese Marquis had fallen on her handlebars in precisely the wrong spot.
Somehow, she had lacerated her liver.
Jason’s phone rang again after dinner. He was back in his apartment, sitting with his agents, worrying. This time the call was from his sister-in-law, Cathy Pellecchia. The tone of her voice was not good.
The doctors had emerged from the operating room with an update.
Reese had only a 50-50 chance to live.
* * *
The odds, Jason says, did not improve for three or four days.
“You’re not out of the woods,” the doctors kept telling Jason and Debbie. “You’re not out of the woods.”
Well, Reese is out of the woods now.
If everything goes well, she should be out of the hospital no later than next week and fully recovered in three months.
Jason, 33, related the whole story Tuesday night, related it from back in Fort Myers, where he had rejoined the Twins and thrown a simulated game earlier in the day.
Reese had remained under sedation for nine days, breathing through a ventilator, requiring four surgeries before doctors finally could close her wound.
The wound ran from below her chest to below her belly button, Jason says, the size of a junior-size football. Leaving it open raised the possibility of infection. And other issues arose as well.
At one point, Reese suffered a collapsed lung. She had tubes in her nose, stomach and hips to flush out bile. When she finally started to breathe on her own last Saturday, she underwent a form of detox from her sedation medication, sweating, shaking, feeling cold.
By then, though, Reese was getting better. Those first few days, when Jason and Debbie did not know if their daughter’s next breath might be her last, were as horrifying as any parent could imagine.
“You can’t put into words on how scared a human being can be in this type of situation,” Jason says. “You’re hopeless. You’re desperate. You’re reaching and praying and just hoping things turn out for the best.
“You wish you could jump inside her body and take the pain away, give it to yourself. There are so many emotions running through your head.”
Eventually, those emotions gave way to relief.
Reese endured, and maybe earned a new nickname, too.
A friend had sent Jason a text message in the middle of her ordeal, calling Reese “Xena: Warrior Princess” after the character in the TV fantasy adventure series.
“I’ve met a lot of kids throughout my life — friend’s kids, teammates’ kids, my other two kids,” Jason says, referring to 5-year-old Andrew and 2-year-old Alexis.
“(Reese) would be the one who could handle this situation, physically, mentally. She’s a tough girl.”
And she was not alone.
Jason, in the course of a 35-minute conversation, repeatedly expressed gratitude for the expert care of Reese’s doctors and nurses, the support of family, friends and seemingly all of Staten Island, the least populated of the five boroughs of New York City.
Staten Island isn’t exactly a small town, but it has that feel. Jason even had a connection at Staten Island University Hospital — Margie Lanigan, the mother of Twins Double-A pitcher Bobby Lanigan, is a manager at the hospital and put Jason in touch with a nurse who could update him with information.
Jason moved to Staten Island from Brooklyn when he was 2. Debbie followed the same exact path when she was 5. The two attended the same schools, and they will celebrate their 10-year anniversary in November.
“It’s an amazing place,” Jason says. “I don’t think I’ll ever leave.”
* * *
Jason’s baseball career, of course, has been much less settled.
The Twins are his seventh team in 13 years. He joined the club just more than three months ago, signing a one-year, $3 million free-agent contract. Yet, even though Jason is a newcomer, the Twins’ reaction to Reese’s injury was exactly what one would expect from one of baseball’s most respected organizations.
“You’re a father first,” general manager Terry Ryan told Jason. “Take care of your daughter.”
Jason had tried to fly home from Fort Myers on a private jet the night of Reese’s accident, but fog in New York prevented him from departing. Instead, he flew to Newark on a commercial jet the next morning, headed straight to the hospital and remained home for the next 12 days.
Jason says he stayed in touch with Ryan and Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson during his absence, speaking to them almost daily. He actually threw quite a bit, and he jogged three to four miles on occasion to clear his head.
Spring training, though, was far from his mind.
“I wasn’t leaving until her I saw her awake,” Jason says. “And I was still torn and heartbroken to leave.”
Jason talked it over with Debbie; they both knew that Jason also had an obligation to the Twins, and that once he left, he would be only a plane flight away. Reese got back on her feet last weekend, smiling, joking, laughing again.
It was time.
On Monday night, after a full day at the hospital, Jason flew back to Fort Myers.
On Tuesday, his first day back in uniform, Debbie blew up his phone with text messages, inspirational text messages like none he had received.
Reese had gotten up to walk. She was eating a peanut butter sandwich, eating ice cream, drinking juice.
“It was almost like, ‘Dad, you go back to work, and I’ll go do what I’ve got to do,’ ” Jason says. “It was probably the greatest day of my life.”
Funny how things sometimes work out. Jason is indeed back to work, but soon he will be back with his family, too.
He needs time in the minors to regain arm strength, and it just so happens that the Twins’ Double-A affiliate is in New Britain, Conn., about 120 miles from Staten Island.
New Britain is where Jason will start the season; 13 years into his major league career, he still has a minor league option remaining. He will commute back and forth from Staten Island, and his first start for the Twins could come in a series from April 16-19 in Yankee Stadium.
In other words, Jason could spend nearly all of the next three weeks at home — home with Debbie, Andrew and Alexis, and pretty soon, Reese, too.
“To see where she was 11 days ago … it’s hard for people to understand,” Jason says. “You say, ‘She fell off a bike.’ But in the blink of an eye, your life can change.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, I’m getting traded to the Minnesota Twins or St. Louis Cardinals.’ No, your life can change. You never want to think it can happen to you. But you’ve got to be grateful for what you have, make sure you appreciate it, don’t take anything for granted.”
Riding her bike, that’s all Reese was doing. Riding her bike, like any 7-year-old would.