John Parisi; Rye Brook, NY
The morning of June 2, 2002, was a bright and beautiful Sunday and my eight-year-old daughter, Julia, and I were excited to play our soccer game. She would start as goalie and as one of the coaches; I would cheer her on from the sideline. We arrived at the field early and with the help of another player’s dad, I put the goals in place on the game field. I then went to the equipment box to find the mallet that is used to hammer in the 12-inch spikes that secure the goals. However, the mallet was not there and the spikes were too large to sink into the ground without a good size hammer. Since it was a particularly breezy day, I was discussing with the other coaches what we could do to secure the goals. It was during this discussion that the sound of the wind rustling the trees caused me to turn suddenly. To my horror, I could see the goal falling and Julia was standing under it as her teammates took practice shots on her. For an instant, time stood still. I can still hear the sound of my own voice screaming her name causing her to look skyward and see the 180lb steel frame coming toward her. She attempted to dart out of the way, but it was too late. The top bar of the goal frame slammed to the ground crushing her femur.
I reached her in seconds and immediately noticed that her thigh was bent where it should have been straight. I screamed, “Call 911” thank God for cell phones! I positioned myself so that Julia could lean into me and remain perfectly still. Together, we waited for the ambulance, wanting to believe that this wasn’t that bad. On the way to the hospital and now under the care of the professionals, we conceded that she would most likely be going home in a cast that night, just like when she broke her arm.
At the hospital, the news kept getting worse. When they showed me the x-ray, I nearly threw up. The middle section of the bone that connects her knee and hip was in five or six pieces and those pieces were spread apart. The doctor said that it was as if someone came down on her leg swinging a sledgehammer full force. Julia would not be going home that night. We were then advised that we would have a choice to make by the next day. She could either endure the risks of two surgeries to have medical hardware installed that would enable her to be mobile while she healed, or she could be treated with a body cast. The cast would cover her body from her neck to both ankles and she would remain flat in bed for 3 months. She would then require extensive physical rehabilitation. We opted for the operations.
Julia had four long pins screwed into the good sections of bone above and below the break and these pins stuck out of her thigh about four inches. Two vertical rods that acted as a substitute femur, while her bone healed, connected the pins. After a week in the hospital and three weeks in a wheelchair, she was able to move around on crutches. Two times per day we had to remove the bandages around the pins and clean the wounds. This was a painful process for Julia, but I was told that if an infection worked its way to the bone, it could have life-long consequences. I never asked what that meant, exactly, but we made sure those pins stayed clean.
After three months, Julia had a second operation to have the hardware removed. The four wounds where the pins entered her leg healed, but will always show scars. The painful physical rehabilitation continued for six months from the time she was in the hospital. Thankfully, Julia has made a full recovery and has been able to return to all sports activities. She even played a season of soccer before deciding to give it up.
As bad as this experience was for Julia and the rest of our family, we realize that it could have been so much worse…and all because the wind blew over an unsecured soccer goal. We are grateful for having been spared a worse tragedy, but feel strongly that these types of accidents are preventable and more needs to be done to protect our children.
I continue to coach soccer for my younger daughter and now travel with my own set of spikes and a hammer. Although coaches and parents are becoming more aware of the danger soccer goals pose, I continue to arrive on fields in my town and others to find unanchored goals. We must all be vigilant. It is not only game time that is of concern; there are practices, gym time, recess and early evenings when children return to unsupervised fields to play. Schools and towns need to institute policies requiring proper installation of these moveable goals. Education and supervision is needed for coaches, teachers and parents. And, the police department should issue summons to those who do not comply. Manufacturers of these soccer goals say they are working on improving the design of this equipment, but in the meantime there are thousands of these soccer goals on fields across America that are accidents waiting to happen.