canada africa partner reservation Carmel softball pitcher Chelsea Bennett returns after spinal surgery

Carmel softball pitcher Chelsea Bennett returns after spinal surgery


CARMEL — Chelsea Bennett was tackled by teammate Ellie Goddard as she left the circle, a mini celebration for the Carmel sophomore who pitched a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts against softball powerhouse Roncalli. Chelsea’s parents referenced the moment, captured by IndyStar photographer Joe Timmermann, during a phone interview last weekend. But they don’t say anything about her performance. They are focused on her emotions, the joy, the happiness.

When Roger and Melanie ask their daughter how she feels after the games and training, she tells them how nice it is to be with her teammates again. She loves it.

Everything has come full circle, said Roger. Chelsea was in a New Jersey hospital last February recovering from spinal surgery and was in constant pain until late last year, putting her softball career in serious doubt.

Regardless of what happens from here on out, Roger continued, Chelsea is back playing softball and having fun. That’s all that matters. “Her smile makes it worth it for us.”

Chelsea threw a ball in from the outfield the first time it happened. A loud one POP! followed by a sharp pain. That was strange. She finished the workout, but the pain persisted.

It hurt to even breathe, she remembered. “It was like being stabbed. A very intense stabbing pain.”

A chiropractor determined that the then 12-year-old boy had a subluxated rib.

Chelsea immediately returned to softball, but the pain never went away and the rib subluxations became more frequent (every 3-6 months), always involving the same one or two ribs at the top of her ribcage – except in the case of four. months before her surgery when one popped out on the other side and she had three sublexed ribs at the same time.

The pain only got worse and began to affect Chelsea’s daily life, Melanie said. She was hunched over and had trouble getting out of bed in the morning, let alone getting to class. Even driving was difficult, with the slightest bump causing severe pain.

Chelsea recalled a rib popping out during a travel tournament. Unable to reach the chiropractor, she returned to the hotel between games and applied a softball in an attempt to get it back in place (it didn’t work). Roger and Melanie noted their daughter’s last travel tournament in November 2022, when she sneezed and dislodged a rib.

It was a constant ache and pain, Chelsea said, and when a rib popped out, the intense stabbing pain returned, making it difficult to breathe.

“I got so used to it that I didn’t remember what it felt like to not have rib pain anymore.”

Scheuermann’s kyphosis

Dr. Jason Lowenstein took one look at Chelsea’s X-ray during a Zoom call and knew exactly what she was dealing with and what the right treatment plan was.

Chelsea had Scheuermann’s kyphosis, a relatively rare condition in which the front of some vertebrae in the upper back grow more slowly than the back. These vertebrae become wedge-shaped and cause the spine to bend outward. Chelsea’s spine grew one degree per year, Roger said, a process that would continue even after she stopped growing. If she didn’t get treatment, she would have been completely cowed by the university.

The only solution was spinal surgery. Doctors attached two rods along Chelsea’s spine, from the base of her neck (T2 vertebrae) to her lower back (L2 vertebrae), and then covered them with ground-up bone, expecting the bone to fuse and that part from her back would merge. the spine will become one bone.

After years of fruitless research and doctor visits, including one to a rib specialist in Milwaukee, Chelsea and her parents finally had a concrete solution to improve her quality of life.

“It was really frustrating because my parents had done so much research and even I had looked into seeing if this was happening to anyone else, but there was nothing going on,” said Chelsea, who only found information about softball players dealing with unrelated injuries such as floating. ribs. “When (Lowenstein) said this would help my ribs and stuff, I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is amazing.'”

Chelsea had a virtual appointment with Lowenstein on January 4, 2023.

On February 20she was in New Jersey where she was prepared for the eight-hour operation.

“Her organs were restricted because her shoulders were hunched over, so there was no reason to wait,” Melanie said. “The sooner (she had surgery), the sooner she could heal.”

Melanie admits she wasn’t sure if the “Herculean effort” required to return could dampen Chelsea’s love of softball. She and Roger recalled that their daughter’s motivation waned as she was cooped up in a hospital bed in a New Jersey apartment for 20 hours a day for the first three weeks after her surgery.

Chelsea was still in pain and uncertainty was starting to creep in.

A week before flying home, five of Chelsea’s travel teammates came to visit and spent virtually the entire weekend at her bedside. It was motivating, she said, a reminder of why she wanted to play softball again. From that moment on there was an immediate change in mentality, a renewed determination, Roger added. “That was a game changer.”

“(Those 36 hours) were transformative. They brought her back to herself in a way,” Melanie said. “It made her stop thinking about things and start thinking again, ‘Oh yeah, there are fun things happening out here too.'”

‘An amazing, resilient, positive spirit’

Chelsea’s teammates huddled around her along the first base line. She was in Florida with her travel team, eight months removed from surgery, preparing to throw for the first time. 1-2-3 Chelsea! They shout before running onto the field as their parents cheer her on from the stands.

It was an emotional scene, Chelsea said. Everyone was in tears, including herself.

“It was such an amazing moment,” she continued. “Everyone was so supportive and I knew it didn’t matter how I performed. It was just a huge milestone to even be there and get that first pitch.”

“She is an amazing, resilient, positive spirit,” Roger said.

Chelsea wanted to attend softball practice the night they returned from New Jersey. It was the first time she wanted to do anything since her surgery, Melanie recalled, and although she couldn’t play, maintaining her presence on the diamond helped Chelsea’s recovery.

The incoming freshman was limited to walking and could not twist, bend or lift anything more than five pounds for six months after her surgery. She helped her father identify pitches for her travel team over the summer, then stepped in as team manager at Carmel in the spring. .

While it wasn’t always the easiest – especially as her travel team enjoyed a successful summer – staying involved helped Chelsea overcome the doubts that crept in when she started delving back into softball activities.

“The hardest part is mentally telling yourself you can do it,” said Carmel senior outfielder Katy Smith, a longtime family friend who underwent similar surgery for scoliosis her freshman year.

Smith has been Chelsea’s “biggest inspiration”.

As a multi-sport athlete (softball and cheer), she connected with her teammate on a different level. Smith knew what Chelsea was going through – the pain it brought and the patience required – and provided constant support, answering all her questions before surgery and visiting regularly during recovery.

“There are definitely hard days, bad days, but it’s a mental game,” said Smith, who took a year to feel like herself again. “If you feel like it, you can do it, similar to softball.”

After enduring so many years of pain, it’s hard to say what 100% could look like for Chelsea. But there are specific areas she hopes to improve, such as spin rate and velocity, and she has thrown more than four innings only once this season, a seven-inning, 119-pitch outing against Avon on April 20.

But right now, none of that really matters.

Chelsea Bennett is back and doing what she loves.

And she does it pain-free.

Follow Brian Haenchen on Twitter at @Brian_Haenchen.