SEATTLE, WA – Photojournalist Dean Rutz of The Seattle Times returned home today from a northern hospital near the Canadian border where he’s been being treated since Thursday after a baseball struck him in the head and fractured his skull.
Friends and coworkers tonight say that Rutz is expected to eventually make a full recovery, but that it was “a very close call.” “It could have been a lot worse. Everyone is really concerned,” Times director of photography Barry Fitzsimmons said tonight.
Rutz was on assignment Thursday in Ferndale, WA, north of Bellingham, covering a high school baseball player who scouts believe will make it big in major league sports. “Dean was outside the playing field and it was before the game,” Fitzsimmons said. “He was photographing the pitcher as he was warming up, and he’d been following him around before the game. The pitcher did not throw the ball that hit Dean. It was thrown by the shortstop, who was throwing to third base during practice. It was a wild overthrow that hit Dean in the head.”
Coworker Rod Mar says Rutz “got hit flush in the head.” Rutz says that he remembers being hit and then dropping down to his knees, and realizing that he was still conscious. Fitzsimmons says that a volunteer firefighter and paramedic who were on the next diamond working as assistant coaches rushed over to Rutz to see if he was okay. “They decided to check him out, and they thought maybe he was okay because he was still conscious, but then he started losing consciousnes," Fitzsimmons said. Rutz also had blood coming from his ear; an ambulance was called.
We now know that at one point during the ambulance ride Rutz stopped breathing and the crew pulled over and stopped so that they could intubate him to keep oxygen going to his body. Rutz now says that the next thing he remembers after blacking out in the ambulance is coming to in an intensive care ward at the hospital and breathing through a ventilator, with a tube going into his neck.
Times sports reporter and columnist Ron C. Judd is a long-time friend and coworker who lives near the baseball field and rushed to the hospital when he heard about Rutz being hit. Fitzsimmons says that Judd went to the emergency room at St. Joseph's Hospital and kept editors back at the newspaper updated about Rutz through phone calls. Judd and Rutz have covered several Olympic Games together, including this year's in Italy.
Once Rutz was at the hospital he had a couple of seizures before stabilizing, Mar said. "But the good news is that now after multiple CT scans that have been negative, he’s doing better and is expected to make a good recovery.”
Mar said Rutz has a large bruise on the right side of his head. “He still can’t hear out of his right ear, and he has some blurring in his right eye. But the doctors are hopeful that once the swelling goes down things will come back to normal.”
Rutz, a frequent contributor to News Photographer magazine, is facing at least eight weeks of rest and rehabilitation, coworkers have been told, and he’s walking today with the aid of a cane.
“We’re setting up a food chain to take food up to his house, and we’re going to take turns walking his dogs," Fitzsimmons said tonight. “He’s got a long recovery ahead, but we’re going to do everything we can to help out.”
Mar said, “I spoke with Dean around 5 p.m. Sunday night and he says he’s sore and tired. He said he feels ‘like I’ve been run over by a truck.’ So he still has his sense of humor.”
“Dean really wants me to express his thanks for the outpouring of love and support that he’s been shown since the accident,” Mar said. “He says that he’s lucky to have such good friends and is very thankful to everyone. He’s realizing that he has a long road ahead of him, and he’s promised to take everyone up on their offers of help once he gets settled in.”
Rutz is a photojournalism graduate of Indiana University and was a photographer for The Palm Beach Post and The Washington Times before moving to Seattle. He's a veteran photographer of news and major league sports and has covered multiple winter Olympic Games in his career.
Footnote: Rutz dictated and sent an eMail to concerned friends and coworkers on Monday telling what he remembers about what happened when he was hit on the head with a baseball. Read the photojournalist's first-person account here.