A chilly Friday night in April on the South Side of Chicago was the scene of a terrifying moment for many. It started innocently enough, with the defending champion Houston Astros laying it on the struggling White Sox, and chasing James Shields — the White Sox starter for that evening — from the ballgame in the top of the sixth inning.
White Sox reliever Danny Farquhar was tasked with cleaning up the mess that evening. Farquhar made his way from the Sox bullpen in left field, to “My Shot” by the cast of Hamilton blaring throughout Guaranteed Rate Field, set to face Astros’ outfielder George Springer with runners on second and third and just one out.
Farquhar surrendered a ground-rule double to Springer, scoring both Brian McCann and Derek Fisher, and then struck out reigning American League MVP Jose Altuve for the second out of the inning. Carlos Correa took Farquhar deep on the sixth pitch of the ensuing at-bat, before Farquhar induced a fly ball off the bat of Josh Reddick for the final out, working his way out of the jam.
The real battle was just beginning for Danny Farquhar.
Farquhar collapsed in the White Sox dugout after working his way through a 15-pitch outing, and was rushed to Rush University Medical Center by Paramedics, where we would find out late Friday (April 20, 2018) night that Danny has suffered a brain hemorrhage from a ruptured aneurysm.
The very next night, the medical staff at Rush fought to save Danny’s life for the second time in a span of 24 hours, performing a complicated surgery to address the aneurysm, leaving the 31-year-old right-hander in stable but critical condition.
The initial reports from the club indicated that Farquhar had use of his extremities, was responding appropriately to questions and commands and was speaking to doctors and his family.
“Over the last 24 hours, there’s been a lot of good news,” Sox starting pitcher James Shields said. “Obviously, he’s not out of the water [sic] yet, but I think the good news is definitely needed for him and his family.”
The White Sox have kept Danny at the ballpark in spirit over the last three weeks, hanging his number 43 jersey in the left field bullpen, in the spot where he often leaned against with his back facing the field as he entertained his bullpen mates.
The Seattle Mariners even hung a number 40 Jersey with his name on it in the visitor’s dugout during their trip to Chicago in the days following the tragic incident. Manager Scott Servais said that he and his club though it was only right, since Farquhar spent some of his seven-year major league career in Seattle.
“A few of our players who played with him thought it would be the right thing to do, respectful,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “I certainly agree with it. Anytime anybody goes down in the baseball family, and certainly when it’s a guy who has played in your organization before, it’s the right thing to do.
“Our guys speak very, very highly of Danny. They talk about the personality and the energy and the type of teammate he was. Certainly, we feel bad for him. The word I got is he’s improving, and I know our guys are happy that’s moving in the right direction.”
Monday afternoon, Farquhar was discharged from Rush University Medical Center after 18 days of around the clock care by the talented medical team at Rush. According to a news release by the White Sox, Farquhar is home, and resting with his wife and kids for the time being, and has been ruled out for the 2018 season while he recovers from the brain hemorrhage.
This morning, I spoke with Dr. Demetrius Lopes, the Director of Cerebrovascular Neurosurgery at Rush University Medical Center, who oversaw Danny’s care since the April 20 incident.
Dr. Lopes shed some light on the injury, the potential causes and treatment, and the potential road back to professional baseball for Danny Farquhar.
Patrick Flowers (PF): OK, it was described through the news release that Danny had a brain hemorrhage that was a result of a ruptured aneurysm. Can you just briefly tell me how that came about, or how something like that occurs?
Dr. Demetrius Lopes (DL): “In this particular case, the brain hemorrhage was caused by a weakness in the blood vessel, that we call an aneurysm. The theory behind the formation of the aneurysm is that, you have a weakness in the blood vessel that over your lifetime that will develop into a balloon, or as we call it an aneurysm.
When the blood vessels are formed, you cannot tell from the outside, or with any type of imaging that there is a weakness. The blood vessel is built with three layers of thickness, and in the microscopic level, one of the layers is thinner or absent. That area may develop weak spots, which may start to balloon, but this has to happen in a particular area. So, the weakness and the stress that we see, we call it hemodynamic stress, has to have usually happened in the areas of five locations where the blood vessels begin to divide. So, there’s a combination of factors that have to come together to form an aneurysm like that.”
PF: When this happened, he [Farquhar] had just finished pitching an inning. He left the mound and went to the dugout, at which time he collapsed. Was that just pure coincidence, or did it have anything to do with the physical activity of actually pitching?
DL: “This happens everyday, everywhere,” Lopes said. “I think it’s difficult to relate. That could happen when you’re sleeping, it could happen when you’re driving, it could happen really in many different types of scenarios. There’s nothing that one can say that, that particular incident happened because of pitching, or what happened that day.”
PF: 18 days later, and by all indications from the news releases, he’s walking and he’s at home with his family and has use of all his extremities and motor skills and everything. Is that rare, or is that more common with this type of incident?
DL: “Well, 30 percent of people die the moment the aneurysm ruptures,” said Lopes. “25 percent of survivors will never go back home, and will have some type of disability. So, 55 percent of patients will go home and live a normal life again.”
PF: So he’s out for 2018, just to play it safe for his recovery, correct?
DL: “Yeah, as you know, this is a major event and a lot has to do with the initial bleeding, so there’s two things you have to consider. One, is to have a brain aneurysm. Many people can have a brain aneurysm, and not have the aneurysm rupture. Two, When people in the media are referring [to this incident] as a brain hemorrhage, that in the medical field is actually referred to a subarachnoid hemorrhage, and that’s the name of the space where the blood is within the head, the subarachnoid space. That’s where the spinal fluid is. So, that bleeding is not inside of the brain, the bleeding is inside of the head between the brain and the skull.
That condition alone, when it happens, it triggers a number of events. It could cause fluid in the head, a condition called Hydrocephalus, or water in the head. The spinal fluid doesn’t circulate as easy, because now it’s mixed with blood, so it gets caught and needs to be drained out, basically relieved. The other condition happens usually about a week after the reading, it’s called Vasospasm, which is bleeding in the space between the brain and skull and that could cause strokes.
So that’s why it’s so much of a chain reaction, once an aneurysm bleeds, the patient is sick for two week doesn’t matter what you do, that’s just the downtime that somebody will have. The management of this is crucial, this is the tricky part. To take care of someone with a brain hemorrhage, and the chain reaction that occurs after the subarachnoid hemorrhage requires a lot of expertise from the team.
Once you make it through all of that, then your brain function and everything, you know this is not like a cancer — once you take care of it, you just have to monitor it to make sure that no new aneurysms will develop. Somebody with a healthy lifestyle, it’s the first step in getting better. But for some, we don’t know if they could develop another aneurysm down the line. Maybe four percent of people actually do, so you have to keep monitoring. We do scans that help us monitor that, but the recovery once you pass all of this, each individual will try to get back to their normal life as well as they can. Most people that recover from the subarachnoid hemorrhage develop a whole new appreciation for life, and just how fragile the whole thing could be.”
PF: How would you describe Danny’s recovery process these past two and a half weeks?
DL: “We have had an incredible, very efficient process. He did very well through the whole recovery.”
PF: Will Danny ever be able to resume playing baseball at a competitive level?
DL: “It would mean the world to me, and the potential for that is why we do this. It’s a hard feeling to explain to you, the amount of hours and the training that goes into getting this done. But this, this is why you do this. Because we’re not focusing on those 30 percent that don’t make it, we’re focusing, when it comes on to treatment to get [the patient] back into their normal life again.”
PF: What do you want to share with readers regarding the efforts to detect and treat these types of incidents before they arise?
DL: “I have to tell you, we are moving more and more to try to detect these before they rupture. there’s a lot of effort, especially from our research to try to detect this before it happens, because then you have a better chance to get the higher for senior folks that don’t even have to deal with this problem.”
If one has the ‘worst headache of their life,’ seek medical attention immediately, because that could have been the beginning of the bleeding. Awareness of this could save lives. Of course, living a healthy lifestyle helps prevent issues like these, and preventive screenings as well, especially if a family member or two have a history of these type of events.”
All things considered, Danny Farquhar seems to be as White Sox teammates have called him this week, “their miracle.”
Special thanks to Dr. Demetrius Lopes for taking the time to talk this morning. Dr. Lopes is a Cerebrovascular Neurosurgeon at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, and a member of the Cure4Stroke Foundation advisory board.
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