COBB COUNTY, Ga. - In early August of 2014, Kenneth Hartzfeld was on the brink of his junior year at Westminster. Playing shortstop and pitcher, he was good enough to attract the interest of college baseball scouts.
Hartzfeld says baseball is everything to him.
He says, "I just love the game. I love how simple and complex it can be at the same time."
But, for a long time, the now 17-year old thought he might have to give up his dream of playing college baseball. Because of what happened the afternoon of August 5th, 2014.
Kenneth’s mom, Jan Hartzfeld, says “It was probably the worst day of my life..."
Kenneth was coming home from his summer job in Westminster’s school bookstore. The last thing he remembers is climbing behind the wheel of his dad's old ‘81 BMW, which was now his. He says, "I really don't remember anything about the accident."
He was just a half mile from his East Cobb home, on Lower Roswell Road, when he and another driver collided, head on. His mom was out walking the dog in her neighborhood.
She says, “And all of a sudden my neighbor came running down the street, screaming that Kenneth had been hurt."
It’s still hard to see photos from the wreck. Kenneth had to be cut out of the vehicle by Cobb County firefighters. Jan says Kenneth had been wearing his seatbelt, but his face had hit the steering wheel of the older car. The damage was horrific. Kenneth had shattered every bone from his eyebrows down.
She says, "When I got up, there the scene was silent. And I knew that wasn't good."
Paramedics rushed Kenneth to the closest trauma center, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta. A chaplain met Jan at the door, as Kenneth was rushed inside the E.R.
Wellstar Kennestone trauma surgeon Dr. Avi Bhavaraju says Kenneth was alert, but his facial bones were broken in at least 8 to 10 places. His jaw, cheekbones, both eye sockets, just about everything was broken.
Dr. Bhavaraju says, "Given the degree of trauma to his face, the lacerations and fractures, he was having a hard time protecting his airway. So, when someone comes in like that, we have help them, to protect them. So we ended up intubating him and putting him on a ventilator."
Kenneth awoke four days later in the ICU. Later that day, he underwent an 11-hour surgery to repair his facial bones. A plastic surgeon used titanium plates, using old photos of Kenneth before his accident as her guide.
Kenneth’s mom says, "Throughout this whole experience, he's never complained once. Never said, 'Why me?'"
After 19 days, Kenneth walked out Kennestone, wearing his Westminster baseball cap. He was 30 pounds lighter, his jaw wired shut. Baseball seemed a long way off.
He remembers, "Originally, they said I would probably never play baseball again. But I decided that was wrong. I wanted to play."
So, Kenneth made up his mind. Less than a month after his accident, his mother says he begged to go back to Westminster. Because he was so medically-fragile, she had to go to school with him. He returned to class jaw wired, wearing a trach and a G-tube.
Getting back to baseball took much longer. But, Kenneth says, that’s what kept him going.
He says, "It was incredibly important. That was basically the main driver to me getting better, was to get back on the baseball field."
A year later, Kenneth is playing summer ball with the East Cobb Dodgers. The college scouts have started coming around again. His mom Jan says Kenneth never gave up hope. He just kept pushing.
Watching him on the field, she says, "I am so proud of him. He makes me cry all the time, but it's tears of joy."
When Kenneth Hartzfeld smiles, you can just faintly see signs of the facial injuries he endured. On August 5th, the one year anniversary of his accident, Kenneth posted on his Facebook page.
He wrote, "This chapter of my life is now over and I can only look ahead."