Cadin Duggan’s injury was a matter of life and death — quite literally.

In the final seconds before halftime of Chetopa High School's basketball game against Southeast on Dec. 11, Duggan chased down the rebound of his life.

The shot caromed off the rim and was headed out of bounds on the opposite end of the floor. It looked like a routine play to Chetopa coach Rick Aldridge, but when Duggan dove and turned to launch the ball back into play — he lost balance.

With speed and gravity carrying him out of bounds, he fell, and his throat collided with the back of a chair in the bottom row of the bleachers.

“The impact was pretty horrific; that’s the only word I can use,” Aldridge said.

By the time Aldridge ran over to the other end of the court, Duggan had already suffered some swelling around his throat, but he told the coach he felt OK. Duggan then went to the locker room with Chetopa’s girls basketball coach Jaunc Bradshaw and rejoined the team on the bench after halftime.

“He sat down on the bench next to me so I could keep an eye on him,” Aldridge said. “We had ice on his throat. He wasn’t struggling real bad, but he was limping really bad because of one of the impact areas.”

And with one minute to go in the game, Aldridge called a timeout and inserted the rest of his players in the game — then he glanced over at Duggan.

“His arm was just flailing,” Aldridge said. “I went over to him, and I was like ‘What’s going on Cadin?’ The only thing he said was, ‘I can’t breathe, Coach.’ That was it. We cleared the bench and laid him down. We called for an ambulance right away.”

An ambulance rushed Duggan to a nearby hospital in Parsons, where he was immediately put on a ventilator to help him breathe. The initial assessment was done in Parsons, but doctors said the trauma to his throat was worse than anything they could deal with.

After determining he would be taken to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, by ambulance early that morning, Aldridge and Duggan's mother, Carla, went home to pack up some things for the trip.

“Carla called me at 6:30 a.m., and she was just completely upset,” Aldridge said. “Cadin had crashed when they were moving him.”

He was quickly stabilized on the ambulance and then life-flighted to Tulsa, where X-rays showed he had a small fracture and tear in his larynx.

“I’ve coached close to 1,700 basketball games and I’ve coached football at all levels — you see ankles, broken bones and torn ACLs — but never in my career have I seen an injury like that,” Aldridge said. “The injury was life and death, literally. To some degree, you could say death because he did crash. For all intents and purposes, I never saw the young man coming back.”

“Kansas had just passed to where parents can go and attend the games — that was the first game I got to go to this season,” Carla added. “It was terrifying, needless to say.”

The only thing Cadin Duggan remembers about the play is diving for the ball in the heat of the moment.

“I was just trying to make a play for my team,” he said.

Road to recovery

Doctors prepared for the worst. When they went in to conduct the surgery that morning, doctors informed Carla and Aldridge that Cadin would have to get a tracheostomy placed in his neck to help him breathe for the rest of his life.

“That’s how serious things looked,” Aldridge said. “That’s what the surgery was all about. I will tell you: Being a Christian, we had an awful lot of prayers across the country — I’m a very strong believer in the power of prayer. This young man is evident of that because he’s a minor miracle.”

After finishing the surgery the next morning, doctors were blown away at Duggan's progress. He came out breathing on his own.

“Doctors were saying he was lucky,” Carla said. “They said they had never seen anything as traumatic to an injury that severe due to basketball. He was very lucky.”

With the right treatment and care to heal on his own, the 17-year-old recovered after spending the past few weeks back at home in Chetopa. He made so much progress in such little time that doctors signed a release last week saying he could start participating in basketball activities.

“He had to take it easy, and Momma was kind of overbearing, overprotective,” Carla said. “That kind of drove him nuts. It was OK. We got through it. It was very hard to let him go do anything after the first couple of weeks. I just wanted to bubble wrap him and leave him at home.”

And that came to fruition on Tuesday night as Chetopa hosted Tyro Christian. Duggan played in his first game since that traumatic accident and scored 11 points while grabbing three rebounds and blocking one shot in limited minutes in the Green Hornets' 73-39 victory.

“It will mean a lot more to me than anything else,” Duggan said of playing his first game in more than a month on Tuesday. “I’m very happy to get back out there with my team.”

Aldridge said while he’s made a miraculous recovery — the coach cautioned there will be limitations.

“We’re not going to give him a lot of time because we are going to nurse him back because, No. 1, the guy hasn’t had a workout since darn near a month,” Aldridge said. “The first thing he said when he was able to come to, he asked if he was done for the season. Not, ‘Hey Mom, I’m glad you’re here.' Or, 'What happened?’ He’s an incredible young man. He’s one of those kids that every coach wants. The kid is amazing. To be honest, I’m nervous as hell right now.”

Duggan admitted he learned a lot about himself through all the trials and tribulations that came with the injury.

“I learned that I’m pretty humbled about all the things that have happened, all of the traumatic events,” Duggan said. “I’m perfectly fine with all that happened.”

Carla, whose oldest son, Zack, died last January, described her emotions as "excited" and "terrified" for Cadin’s return to the basketball court. She also called his recovery a blessing.

“I think all the prayers have been overwhelming,” Carla said. “It’s a miracle in itself. It was scary, especially after losing my older son, Zack. He was 29, and then this happened with my youngest son. It was like, ‘Wow.’ I think Zach was there just looking after him.”

Want to help?

An account has been set up at the Bank of Commerce in Chetopa, Kan., to help offset the costs of medical bills stemming from Cadin Duggan’s injury.

Donations can be sent to Bank of Commerce, C/O Cadin Duggan, 409 Maple Street, Chetopa, KS 67336.

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