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Laing making most of 'miracle'

April 24, 2005|BY DAN KAUFFMAN

kauffman@herald-mail.com

For most athletes, success is defined by what they accomplish.

It can be through team goals - conference titles, sectional and regional crowns, or for those fortunate few, state championships. Or it can be through individual goals - excelling in a certain discipline, making an All-Conference or All-Area team or earning an athletic scholarship.

Hedgesville senior Kayla Laing does not fall in the "most athletes" category.

For Laing, success these days is defined by pulling on her Eagles softball jersey, lacing up her cleats, grabbing her glove and running out to take the field - none of which she will ever take for granted again.

Laing - who also shined for Hedgesville's volleyball team - was nearly killed in an automobile accident in November. According to her father, Eagles softball coach Larry Laing, doctors gave Kayla a 50 percent chance to live.

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She did ... and now she's making the most of life.

"In the hospital they told me my life would be really different, and I was determined no matter what they said that I wasn't going to change, that I would do everything that I normally would," said Kayla.

"I've come through a lot, I guess. ... My main goal was to play softball. I told my dad if I couldn't play softball, I would help coach. But I can play, and that just helped me more with my goals."

"I've been a coach for 24 years and I always thought sports were the big thing," Larry Laing said. "This has given me a much different view on things. (Sports) has taken a back seat to her being with me on the field."

From celebration to tragedy


The evening of the accident started as an evening of triumph. Kayla, an outside hitter on the Eagles' volleyball team, celebrated with the rest of her teammates after they won the West Virginia Class AAA Region II title and earned a trip to the state tournament.

"It happened the night of the regional championship," Larry said. "She went to a birthday party, her friend was driving, the car struck a tree and it hit on her side.

"It was that phone call you don't want to get."

Kayla was airlifted to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital in Fairfax, Va. Her injuries were extensive: A shattered right arm, two fractured bones in her neck, various facial injuries, a dislocated thumb and fractured ribs - one of which caused the most severe and life-threatening injury, a punctured lung.

"We wound up going to Fairfax where she was flown to, and they told us she was 50-50 there," Larry said. "It was a scary time, very emotional."

Just when things looked bleak, Kayla turned a corner and started the long road back to recovery.

"(Her lung) refilled with air and the doctors don't know how," Larry said. "The good Lord was looking after her. ... She was a fighter. They said nobody came through it like she did. They called her a miracle child."

Kayla had numerous surgeries in the hours and days following the accident, including one in which doctors stabilized her right arm with two permanent titanium plates. She drifted in and out of consciousness for several days.

"I woke up, and it all kind of came back to me at one time," Kayla said. "I tried to call my parents (from the hospital) but couldn't figure out how to work the phone. The next day, my aunt came down to see me, and I asked her what happened, and she told me I was in a wreck."

The support of a community


"Then I started reading lots of cards," Kayla said. "I had lots of pictures and cards in my room. My Mom and Dad would come down every day. I was never by myself."

The outpouring of support came from more than just Kayla's family. Her volleyball teammates visited her at Inova Fair Oaks before heading to the state tournament, and even though Kayla doesn't recall that visit, it made an impact on her even then.

"I don't remember them coming to see me, but I know they were there even though I wasn't awake, because I responded to them," Kayla said.

Her teammates kept in constant contact with her as she was rehabilitating at Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria, Va.

"They came down to Mount Vernon several times to see her," Larry said. "When she came home, they had a get-together for her at the library in the high school. They don't treat her any differently as far as saying, 'Poor Kayla.' They support her, they're behind her. They still clown around and have a good time with her. I've enjoyed their support, too."

Even those who did not know Kayla personally kept her in their prayers.

"When I got home, different churches had prayed for me, and I've been going to all of them to thank them and show them I appreciated it," Kayla said. "Everywhere I went, someone was asking me how I was and it showed me how many people do care."

Reclaiming a normal life


Throughout her rehab, Kayla was driven by what people said she couldn't do.

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