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Doctors optimistic on Hatch

Hoops player's youth, strength are pluses as he emerges from coma.

Monday, June 27, 2011 - 10:07 am

Today marks the start of recovery for Canterbury High School basketball standout Austin Hatch. He will be brought out of the medically induced coma he was placed in after his involvement in a single-engine plane crash Friday evening in Charlevoix, Mich.

“They're waiting for the brain swelling to go down,” Dr. G. David Bojrab told The Associated Press. “He has bruising to the brain, but there's no structural damage as far as they can tell right now, so they're hoping that's a good sign and he'll have a better recovery or a full recovery.”

Austin's father, Dr. Stephen Hatch, 46, was piloting the Beechcraft Bonanza plane and was killed in the crash, as well as Hatch's wife, Kim. The family was en route to their vacation home on Walloon Lake near Charlevoix.

NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway told the Associated Press that investigators were on the scene Saturday. He expected a preliminary report within 10 days and a final report determining a cause within 18 months.

Austin remained in critical condition Sunday evening, according to a hospital spokeswoman at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City.

Bojrab is a partner with Hatch in Pain Management Associates, where Hatch has worked since 1999.

A relative, Jason Bowersock of Fort Wayne, told the Associated Press on Sunday evening that doctors planned to begin taking Austin off the coma-inducing drugs today, while closely monitoring his neurological signs as he regains consciousness.

“Everyone at this point remains very hopeful,” Bowersock said. “All the doctors have been very positive and hopeful given his age and strength. All his other signs are great.”

This is not the first time the Hatches were involved in this type of accident. Hatch was piloting a small, private plane on Sept. 1, 2003, when the plane struck a utility pole and fell to the ground while attempting an emergency landing in Wells County. He and Austin survived, but his wife, Julie, 38, and children, Lindsay, 11, and Ian, 8, died.

“I can remember getting that phone call,” longtime Canterbury teacher and coach Scott Krieger recalled. “It was devastating for all of us. And now this.” Austin is now 16 and without an immediate family.

“If God made a void in your life because people left you, then he's going to fill that void,” said Pastor Lowell Burrus, of Olive Branch Church of God near Roann. “There are miracles that God is going to work that open doors for that boy. He's not going to leave (Austin) forsaken. He said, ‘I will neither leave you, nor forsake you.' That's his promise.”

Burrus, a graduate of Fort Wayne Bible College, has counseled many grieving families during his 41 years as a pastor.

“(Austin) needs to be shown loving support,” said Burrus, who is not counseling the Hatch family. “Making sure that there are people there to show him support is important right now.”

His basketball coach at Canterbury, however, doesn't think that's an insurmountable problem because of the amount of support Austin will have.

“The Hatches are a close-knit group, so Austin has a lot of family to lean on,” said Cavaliers coach Dan Kline. “There are (Canterbury) players that have been in and out (of Traverse City). Some have been up there the entire time.”

Kline left this morning to travel to be with Austin. Several reports have stated the number of people standing vigil at the hospital is so large they are being limited.

“People know Austin so well,” Kreiger said. “I know my (two) sons love him not because of who he is (a basketball standout), but because of how he is. Austin has positioned himself to have tons of people that will help him through this. He's never going to have to sit by himself again. There will be too many people at Canterbury to lift him up.”

Kreiger and Kline both spoke of the closeness the Canterbury (enrollment 319) students enjoy and feel that will be a benefit as Austin recuperates.

“Austin's been (at Canterbury) from the start, and this particular class, they are very close and very good at everything they do,” Kreiger said. “They … love each other. It's really a tremendous group.”

The question looms as to where Austin will spend the remainder of his youth. But Bowersock said it's too early in the healing process to worry about such details.

“No one has even breathed a word of discussing where Austin will reside,” Bowersock said.

There are many questions regarding Austin's future. But Kline isn't worried about the athletic future of his star player.

“If he never plays basketball again,” Kline said, “then he'll just become the best orthopedic surgeon he can become. He's going to persevere because he knows what he wants in life. He has goals and a road map to follow in achieving those goals.”

Austin and his father grew closer since the 2003 plane crash they both survived.

“It has been Steve and Austin in a kind of an ‘us against the world' situation,” Kreiger said. “They have shared a special bond because of what happened. Now Austin's world has been completely peeled away.”

Earlier this month, Austin and his father shared one of the most special days of their lives when the 6-foot-6, 214-pound forward received and accepted a basketball scholarship offer from the University of Michigan, the alma mater of his parents.

Whether he plays at Michigan remains to be seen. Burrus cautioned that the caring and support from those closest to Austin needs to continue regardless of where his future takes him.

“What happens a lot of times, when this is all over with, people kind of forget,” Burrus said. “You can't forget that boy. God will raise up people around (Austin) that will come to him, wrap their arms around him and help him down the road.”