COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — Sports can be a powerful motivator, a reason to live or a reason to fight.
For Heritage Elementary second grader Dean Sasser, it is all of the above.
Much like any young boy, Deano loves sports. But when the winter ends and spring rolls around, baseball sets itself apart from the rest of his favorite sports.
Dean loves playing catch with his father, Matt, in the front yard of their Columbus home. In fact, Dean has played catch with his dad for hours during the spring time.
But Dean’s love of baseball was put on hold back on February 21st due to a serious evening accident.
“Our 6-year-old, Jake, was with us,” says Melanie Sasser, Dean’s mother. “When the car stopped, there was this huge noise. Jake was in the front seat and we both turned around and looked at Dean and Dean was not fine.”
Dean had suffered severe head trauma in the accident. Matt Sasser was in Alabama when the crash occurred that Friday night when he was able to reach his wife, Melanie.
“I asked her if he was okay and she said no. Understand something, if he can never throw a ball again, I didn’t care,” Matt said. “More than anything else I wanted to have a relationship with my son when he crawled up into bed with me like he used to.”
So little Dean had to fight for his life that night in Birmingham, but he knew what it took.
“I was going to be tough, just in case,” Dean said.
And Deano was extremely tough. There was one thing though that would help him get through the surgeries that he had and the rehabilitation to come.
“A friend of ours brought a baseball glove and baseball to the ICU,” Melanie said. “We set it on the end of his bed and the rehab doctor came in and saw him put the glove on and start hitting the ball in the glove.”
“They would try to get him to do things in therapy and it was lame to him,” Matt said. “But when they had a ball he’d literally dive off the mat of the bed to get to it.”
“It was a reminder that this is what we’re going for,” Melanie said. “This is the kid that we brought here and this is the kid we want to leave with.”
One month to the day since the accident, Dean did come home with his family to Columbus. He still returns to Birmingham for outpatient rehab but that doesn’t stop the little warriors from continuing to defy the odds.
“Even the doctors have acknowledged that he’s a poster child and miracle,” Matt said. “Every day he gets up and smiles. If they told him to go pound sand, he’d do it. No matter what they told him he was good with.”
Meanwhile, the Heritage Academy baseball team qualified for the MAIS Division II playoffs beginning on Tuesday. They’ve used Dean’s courage and fight as inspiration for their own journey this season.
“In a way, he’s with us,” said senior Jace Caldwell. “After the senior night, everybody saw what kind of shape he was in and how much stronger he’s gotten.
“If he can fight for this long just to walk and get back to where he was normally, I think we can fight a little harder for him and try to take home the State Championship.”
It was that senior night last Tuesday at Heritage Academy that also became Dean’s night. As two months since the crash, Dean Sasser returned to the diamond in front of friends, family and the Heritage community to throw out the first pitch.
“You’re just grateful,” Matt said. “You looked and he was wearing my number I wore in high school. When he went out to the mound with that number and that name on his jersey, it was unbelievable.”
But it was an unscripted moment that brought the entire journey for Dean and his family full circle that Tuesday night.
Without hesitation, the Patriot baseball team invited Dean over to break down the huddle with their new rallying cry…
“It’s still kind of overwhelming the team would break down to ‘Sasser Strong’ and take that phrase and put it on water bottles and the sign walking into the gate,” Matt said.
“To see it be everywhere on the bracelets and to see people who’ve just done stuff without us even having a part in it, that’s just amazing,” Melanie said.
Dean’s journey back to 100% will continue throughout the coming months. But in just the past two months, he’s taught us all what it means to be ‘Sasser Strong’.