Learning to Kope: Boy overcomes horrific crash to play ball again

By Austin Jackson | Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019
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Comeback kid

COMEBACK KID – Kope Hillary, 9, of Bridgeport was going 70 mph before flipping a side-by-side ATV in December 2016, fracturing several bones. After 25 surgeries and two years of physical therapy, he’s playing his favorite sport, baseball, again. Messenger photo by Austin Jackson

With a rabid cheering section ready to explode, Kope Hillary stepped to the plate, setting his eyes on the pitcher.

The young Bull was all business as he watched the first few pitches cross the plate. Then his eyes got big.

A ping echoed through the Lawdwin Ballfields in Bridgeport as the 9-year-old infielder smacked a line drive to the centerfield fence. He bounded from home plate then made the turn at first, finding another gear despite a slight hobble.

“Go, Kope, go!” his contingency of fans, including parents, siblings, teachers and physical therapists screamed.

He legged out a double. But it was a lot more than that.

On Dec. 16, 2016, life changed for Kope and his family.

The then 7-year-old was going 70 mph on a full-size side-by-side ATV, steering with one hand and holding a toy plane in the other when his life got flipped on its axis.

Mackoy Hillary, 11, said he realized his little brother had been gone too long and noticed smoke over the hill. He and his grandpa rushed toward the smoke and found Kope bloody and broken.

“We saw him on the ground, the ATV flipped on the other side,” Mackoy said. “I remember Kope saying my name.”

Kope’s legs and arms were shattered in the crash, but he was breathing and in and out of consciousness.

Kope’s father and grandparents rushed him to Wise Health System in Decatur. After arriving, he was immediately flown to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Kope’s mom, Lindsey Coleman said.

“I wanted to trade places with him,” said Coleman. “I said, ‘God, put me there. Let me take his hurt. Let me take it.’ I just did my best to stay calm and prayed and prayed. We just sat there in misery, wondering what’s going to happen.”

The longest hours of her life stretched to days.

Kope spent the next 60 days at Cook Children’s, undergoing 21 surgeries.

He was given nine blood transfusions, four skin grafts and his bones were mended with metal rods and screws. He celebrated Christmas in the hospital, as he was whisked to and from operation tables.

After the surgeries, his leg was 80 percent metal. He has a permanent plate in his arm and scars that cover his body. But he survived.

Despite not wearing a helmet during the crash, and the back of his head smacking the ground, leaving a permanent bald spot on the back of his head, Coleman said Kope didn’t suffer a brain injury.

“It’s really a miracle,” she said. “He’s got a hard head, I guess.”

Never give up

NEVER GIVE UP – Kope Hillary, 9, of Bridgeport spent 60 straight days in the ICU at Cook’s Children’s Hosptial in Fort Worth after an ATV crash in 2016. Submitted photo

When Kope was restricted to a wheelchair with metal covering his bones and no feeling in his right arm, he was hardheaded about something else.

“I just wanted to play baseball,” Kope said.

Baseball is Kope’s favorite sport. He has a love for America’s pastime and its greats.

He collects baseball cards. His favorite player, Babe Ruth, is the most prized of his collection.

During two years of grueling therapy, getting back on the diamond and playing baseball was his goal.

Before he could play, Kope had to learn how to walk. Then he had to learn how to use his right arm and regain feeling in his fingers.

In the meantime, he gripped a plastic whiffle ball bat with his left hand, taking big cuts in his hospital room and when he finally got to come back home.

“Broken bones or not, his heart never stopped beating for baseball,” Coleman said.

After the first slate of surgeries, the next step was two years of extensive work at Fit-N-Wise Pediatric Therapy.

“When Kope first came in, he was in a wheelchair; he had an external fixator on his right leg,” Fit-N-Wise Pediatric Physical Therapist Assistant Emily Younker said. “Once we dove into everything, he was super motivated.

“He has overcome more than you can imagine,” she added. “I’ve been with him for two years. There were days where it wasn’t easy. It didn’t seem fair that he had to go through all of that. But he never let it bother him as far as recovery. It was hard slowing him down. It was hard to pull in the reins. He just wanted to get back.”

Kope fought through the setbacks and overcame the frustration of his restrictions and the large metal fixator sticking out of his right leg.

Some days were harder than others, but Coleman and Kope never gave up.

“That’s what drove the treatment, getting him back to playing baseball,” Younker said. “He’s not one of those kids that complains. Though he was in pain at times, it never affected his motivation. They just never gave up. Their optimism is a miracle.”

The road back

THE ROAD BACK – Lindsey Coleman, Kope Hillary’s mom, gives Kope sweet tea after four days in the ICU with nothing to drink. Coleman spent 60 days in the hospital alongside her son. Submitted photo

Following four more surgeries, putting him at 25 surgeries in two years, and ceaseless work in physical therapy, Kope finally got the news he wanted to hear.

A day after the two-year anniversary of the accident, Kope was cleared to play baseball again by his orthopedic surgeon John Roaten. It was a moment that had seemed unobtainable as he underwent surgeries to save even the use of his arms and legs.

Last year, Kope got back on the diamond. It was a joyous time for everyone involved in the process.

“Seeing him jog out on that field, I just saw his face come alive,” Younker said.

Tears for a proud mom, joy for his physical therapist, and a big smile from Kope – a boy who got to just be a normal kid again, playing the game he loves.

“I felt freed,” Kope said.

Last Friday, Kope started his second season of playing baseball, even getting an appearance on the mound. His goal for the season is to hit a dinger, and when he grows up, he hopes to hit many more as a power hitting third baseman in the majors.

He’s got his life laid out in front of him. The boy with an old soul said he plans on marrying his crush, Reba McEntire, then making the major leagues.

“I want to play baseball until I’m 50,” he said. “Then I’ll be a pilot until I’m 100. Then I’ll retire.”

With Kope’s history of overcoming the odds, who’s to say he won’t.

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