Operation on Danny Farquhar’s brain didn’t change what was in White Sox pitcher’s heart
By DAVID HAUGH | Chicago Tribune | Published: July 13, 2018
TEMECULA, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Laughter filled the Farquhar house on Hourglass Street in this Southern California wine town tucked at the foot of the Temescal Mountains, and the mood felt light on this summer Saturday.
Danny Farquhar, the White Sox pitcher who nearly died from a ruptured brain aneurysm less than three months ago in the Guaranteed Rate Field dugout, looked like the smiling face on his baseball card again and sounded as lively as ever. Charisma oozed from the 31-year-old father of three as he poked fun at his previous claim to fame at family gatherings: The Yankees included Farquhar in the 2012 deal with the Mariners for future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki.
“That was the Farquhar Trade,” Danny said, grinning. “They needed the pieces.”
That hyperbole somehow compelled Farquhar to recall the time in 2014 when the Mariners, after noticing his athleticism shagging fly balls, inserted him as a pinch runner and he showed his speed advancing from first to third on a single.
“I think that was the most fun I’ve ever had on a baseball field,” Farquhar said, describing every step.
Fun is easy to find in a home with three adorably cute, happy, loud young children: Madison is 7, Landon turns 3 in September and Liam is 8 months. Their dad sat on a living-room floor filled with toys while being interviewed about his hopes for a return to the mound some might call miraculous, interrupting his answers to listen to Madison announce she had found her painting set and to Landon play the drums. Lexie Farquhar, Danny’s high school sweetheart who became his rock of a wife nine years ago, cradled Liam as her husband entertained visitors for a couple of hours with engaging openness about the career of a journeyman reliever Chicago suddenly cares a great deal about since the nearly tragic event of April 20.
“I have no doubt he’s going to do it,” Lexie said of Danny’s comeback.
When the easy conversation flowed back to what happened before and after Farquhar collapsed in the sixth inning against the Astros, he revealed that he kept the Sox No. 43 jersey paramedics cut off him on the way to Rush University Medical Center. It sat upstairs in his bedroom. Farquhar even offered to go retrieve the keepsake from the worst night of his life, perhaps for a photo.
Lexie shot her husband a glance.
“No,” she interjected. “I think that’s a little intense.”
That’s a little intense. The Farquhars laugh a lot these days, and the family’s joy under this roof is real. But the painful memories are fresh, too, just beneath the surface.
Lexie was watching the Astros-Sox game from a suite with other wives of players when she noticed a commotion in the home dugout.
“I thought, ‘That’s strange, maybe somebody got mad at somebody,’ ” she said.
Then Lexie’s phone buzzed with a text message from her aunt.
“Where did they take ‘Farky’ ” it read. “I think Danny got hit by a ball.”
Lexie rushed to the elevators with her two boys. By the time she reached the tunnel outside the Sox clubhouse, she frantically remembered what she had forgotten: Madison still was in playroom for players’ kids.
“I still have one more child to get,” Lexie yelled at a security guard.
As friends secured Madison, chaos ensued elsewhere. Tom Bafia, the indispensable Sox assistant clubhouse manager, raced to the main lobby to find a custodian after head athletic trainer Herm Schneider called him about “somebody puking on the bench.” When Bafia saw paramedics rushing past him, he fled back to the dugout fearing the worst.
“I knew it was more serious,” said Bafia, 33, who has worked for the team since he was a high school student at De La Salle Institute in Chicago.
Danny was down, falling into the arms of coaches and trainers. Bafia followed the stretcher carrying Danny’s limp, unconscious body through the hallway and into the back of the ambulance outside the Gate 4 entrance. He grabbed his phone on the way and instinctively just climbed aboard for the quick ride to Rush.
“I was like, ‘I’m going with him,’ and got in,” Bafia said.
Sox officials rushed to get Lexie to her car. She got Bafia’s number from somebody with the Sox and called him for an update en route. Bafia spared Lexie his greatest fears from the ambulance.
“I was worried Danny was dead because he wasn’t moving,” Bafia said. “Then they connected the heart-rate monitor and it was still beating, thank God.”
A moment later, another strong sign of life came — all over the paramedic.
“Danny projectile-vomited, spraying it everywhere like a fire hose,” Bafia said. “That actually made me feel better like, OK, he’s alive.”
Bafia estimated the ambulance pulled into Rush about 15 minutes after Farquhar collapsed in the dugout. He comforted Farquhar upon arrival and helped Lexie navigate the maze into the emergency room. By the time Lexie entered, he had regained consciousness, and a wide smile said he recognized his wife.
“As soon as I walked in, he said, ‘Hi, beautiful,’ and I felt a little better after that,” Lexie said. “He was in good spirits.”
Tension mounted overnight as the Farquhar family prepared for the first of two surgeries. The Farquhars still feel grateful to Bafia, who did everything from rock the baby, Liam, to sign an informed consent document as a witness.
“He was an incredible support,” Danny said.
Two hours into the first surgery noted neurosurgeon Demetrius Lopes performed, Lexie faced a difficult decision. According to Danny, doctors asked if they could perform a craniotomy — an operation in which a bone flap is removed temporarily from the skull to access the brain — rather than an alternate procedure that included going through Danny’s hip to his brain and likely affecting his ability to walk.
“I’m happy she said yes because now I can still walk,” Danny said.
Danny remembers nothing that happened that night after he drank a cup of coffee and walked to the bullpen around 6:40, like he did before every game. But he never will forget the memory of looking into the mirror four days after the surgery when he finally felt alert again. He saw two drains sticking out of the right side of his skull to ease pressure on the brain and 28 staples lining the left side of his hairline.
“My head was swollen like a softball,” Danny said.
Fear and anxiety competed with hope and gratitude for space inside Lexie’s head. She knew Danny’s situation was bad but realized it could have been much worse if he had collapsed anywhere but a spot surrounded by trained medical personnel roughly 5 miles from a world-class hospital. Numbers suggest ruptured brain aneurysms prove fatal in about 40 percent of cases, and 66 percent of survivors demonstrate some permanent neurological deficit, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Yet here was Danny, days after surgery, showing his trademark sense of humor by putting on blue latex gloves and introducing himself to nurses as “Dr. Farquhar.”
The term remarkable has been used to describe Danny’s recovery. The right words often escape Lexie.
“The first time I took a deep breath and thought it could be better than people expected was when they took his tubes out and he talked for the first time, and somebody asked him what his name was and he just said, ‘D-Fark,’ ” Lexie said, smiling. “Then they asked who I was and he said, ‘My wife.’ At that point, I was like, ‘OK, it’s not going to be easy, but you just gave me everything I needed to believe.”
At 9 on a recent sizzling Southern California morning, the thermometer already read 100 degrees. A day earlier, the temperature hit 114. Hello, heat wave.
“A great day to throw,” Danny announced happily after emerging from the white SUV carrying Lexie and their three kids.
He drove. The family came with him to Victory Athletics to watch Danny take the next step on what he hopes is a journey back to the majors — a throwing session on flat ground at a state-of-the-art indoor-baseball facility in his hometown.
Danny pulled out the portable blood-pressure monitor he carries around like a smartphone. He takes a reading before and after workouts, making sure the top number doesn’t exceed 170. The systolic blood pressure — the top number — measures how much pressure your blood exerts against the artery walls when the heart beats. Satisfied with a reading of 133, Danny began to stretch. He shares results and communicates regularly with Sox team doctor Kathy Weber of Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush but determines much of his routine as he goes.
Weber marvels at Danny’s progress.
“I’m the one who said to Danny, ‘You won your lottery, don’t buy another ticket,’ ” Weber said. “He’s making continued gains, working out at a progressively more intensive level without any issues. It’s really like anybody trying to get back into condition but he’s doing it in a thoughtful, more thorough way. Methodical. Time will tell where he’s at, but based on his progress to date, he’s doing amazing.”
In Danny’s mind, he’s writing medical history.
“It’s one of those things based entirely on how I feel,” Danny said. “I’m 100 percent asymptomatic. I have no headaches. I’m not dizzy. Nothing. My body feels great. My arm feels great.”
Spending 17 days in the ICU after surgery made Danny stir crazy. When doctors finally released him to his South Loop residence to rest for two weeks, he called back after seven days.
“As far as physical activity, I said, ‘I have to do something, guys,’ ” Danny told them.
Hitting every Chicago museum with Lexie and the kids kept Danny active, but he’s a professional athlete. He sought a bigger challenge. A couple of weeks into his rehab under the watchful eyes of Rush doctors, Danny reached out to Garrett Nelson, his friend back in California who runs Victory Athletics.
“I received a text that said, ‘Hey, I want to come back as soon as I can,’ ” Nelson said. “Danny has defied everybody’s predictions where he should be, and at the end of the day, he’s just so lucky. Look at him.”
On the flat surface about 60 feet from a home plate, Danny started throwing pitches out of the stretch position. The protective black helmet on Danny’s head has become a constant accessory because of concerns over the softness of his skull, which won’t completely heal for six to eight months.
It brought to mind retired first baseman John Olerud, who played 17 years wearing a batting helmet in the field after having a brain aneurysm removed in emergency surgery as a college player at Washington State in 1989. Danny also wears “the Olerud helmet” on the golf course and driving range, just in case. He redoubled his safety measures after seeing Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon take a line drive off his forehead in May.
“That really put into perspective how easily that could happen,” Danny said. “So my goal right now is to just wear my helmet as much as possible and get in the best baseball shape I can and see how far I can get.”
His catcher for this throwing session is Michael Bennin, an 18-year-old headed to the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs to play baseball. Bennin, who has attended games at all 30 major-league parks with his parents, Fred and Joyce, wore a Farquhar shirsey on a May trip to Comerica Park in Detroit, where he shared Danny’s story during a local television interview. The teenager wears a black rubber bracelet #DannyStrong sold locally to benefit the Farquhars and uses a customized catcher’s mitt with his name on it that was Danny’s gift for catching him.
After throwing for about 10 minutes, Danny increased the pace and — judging from the popping of the mitt — the velocity. Bennin guessed Danny hit 85 mph. His motion looked fluid and he resembled a reliever trying to warm up quickly.
“Ten more, everything I’ve got,” a smiling Danny told his catcher.
When his final fastball caught the outside corner, Danny took off his hard hat like a construction worker at the end of a shift, wiped his brow and took three deep breaths. He fist-bumped Bennin, signed two baseballs for him and posed for pictures with his parents.
Then he hooked up to the blood-pressure machine to record the results for Weber. 151/99.
“That’s pretty good with my pulse rate at 103,” Danny said. “We’re getting there.”
He took a swig of water and started stretching his arm. His legs felt strong from the 25-yard sprints he runs as part of his conditioning regimen.
“I would say everybody has their downs in life, and this was a big one in mine,” Danny said. “But it feels like I never stopped throwing. I’m 31. I’ve been playing for 26 years of muscle memory throwing a baseball. The body doesn’t forget. It feels like it’s the offseason right now, building toward spring training.”
Spring training officially starts in about seven months. Where will Danny be?
Danny doesn’t watch baseball at home.
“Zero games,” he said. “I don’t because it might give me the stress of wanting to be there. It feels like I’m supposed to be playing baseball so I avoid it. I keep up on the box scores with the White Sox and my teammates, cheering for them. But as far as actually watching, maybe when I get a little closer to being back, I’ll want to. Not now.”
Nowadays, Danny stays busy being a dad, practicing putts on his miniature green to reduce his 9 handicap and procrastinating about the air conditioner the classic car buff wants to put in the 1968 Camaro sitting in his garage. He and Lexie, who grew up in the area before moving to Florida, built this spacious house three years ago about three minutes from where her parents live.
“I could hit a golf ball to my in-laws’ house,” Danny said.
The support helps as the young family continues to process its new reality. The uncertainty feels unfamiliar, but Danny’s main objective doesn’t. His dream began back when he was an exuberant boy in south Florida packing his aluminum bat for summer trips to Venezuela with his mother, a native of the country. It continued at Archbishop McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Fla., and Louisiana-Lafayette, where he starred for the Ragin’ Cajuns. It drove him through 12 minor-league stops over nine seasons and during solid but unspectacular major-league stints with the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rays and White Sox.
Operating on Danny’s brain didn’t change what’s in his heart.
“If you have Plan B, you don’t give Plan A everything you have,” he said. “I went to college, but that was to be a baseball player. I didn’t have a Plan B. I still don’t have a Plan B.”
A question about imagining himself back on a major-league mound produced a smile. He brought up being 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, and how he used to plead with Louisiana-Lafayette officials to list him at 6-foot so scouts wouldn’t dismiss him. He mentioned a Florida program that refused to recruit any pitcher shorter than 6-2. Like many pro athletes, Danny delights in being doubted, so he welcomes any skepticism.
“Every doctor I’ve spoken to believes in me and says I can come back,” Danny said. “But when I was in the ICU, that was the last time I spoke to a doctor about chances of coming back this year. I was told zero chance. Maybe that put the little chip on my shoulder to get in the best baseball shape I can, and if they choose one path over the other, I can’t control it.”
A return this season seems inconceivable with his skull needing more time to heal. As for next year, Danny knows nothing is guaranteed from a Sox team that controls his contract through 2020, and accepts that professional limbo. A 31-year-old father of three who just stared death in the face has more pressing matters on his mind than a 2019 roster spot. But Danny finds comfort in knowing the Sox’s history under Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf for taking care of their employees, even though he has been one of them for less than a calendar year.
“I feel like the Sox are the most loyal team I’ve ever been a part of,” Danny said.
As normal as things appear, every now and then a memory loss reminds Danny of everything he has endured. He was telling a story about driving teammate Xavier Cedeno’s sports car in spring training, for example, when he forgot the name of the vehicle. He gave up drinking because of alcohol’s effect on the brain, a sacrifice made easier married to a teetotal wife he adores. He and Lexie remain moved by all the fan mail, more since April than Danny’s entire baseball career combined.
“My favorite was from a kid who said, ‘I’m a Cubs fan but I still want you to get better,’ ” Lexie said, laughing.
Over the All-Star break in California, Danny plans to visit Sox manager Rick Renteria, who lives a few miles away across from a local winery. When Danny was 6 growing up in south Florida, he fell hard for the player Marlins announcers introduced as “The Secret Weapon.” That was what they called Renteria because of his versatility.
“Boom, he immediately became my favorite baseball player because of that nickname,” Danny said.
Renteria took a line drive to the temple during infield practice as a minor-leaguer in 1990, requiring surgery in which he had two plates inserted into his chin and three screws to reset his jaw. He referenced that accident when asked to put Danny’s ordeal into perspective. He never will forget watching helplessly as workers carried Danny out of the dugout after he collapsed.
“As far as involving another person, what happened to Danny that night was the most traumatic experience probably most of us ever had, a truly scary evening,” Renteria said.
When Renteria sees Danny again, he will promise nothing but positive reinforcement. The indefatigably enthusiastic manager of a team on pace to lose more than 100 games knows no other approach.
“It’s not for myself to tell anybody to pursue or not pursue their dreams because I think anything is possible,” Renteria said. “Danny’s optimism and hope should remain. We also know it’s going to take a little time before he gets where he wants to be next.”
Nobody knows if a pitcher can return to the major leagues after suffering a brain hemorrhage that nearly killed him. But, then again, nobody knows if one can’t either.
“Put it this way,” Renteria said with a sly grin. “I will never sell Danny short — and I don’t think anybody should.”
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