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A little more than two months ago, Steven Bailey nearly died.
After absorbing brutal hits during a high school football game Aug. 23, the Edinburgh sophomore suffered severe internal injuries that nearly caused him to bleed to death on the way to the hospital.
A helicopter trip to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis saved his life that night — a night that was not only almost fatal but that also quite likely his ended his football career.
Except it didn’t.
Bailey will not only play football again, but he’ll do so Friday when Edinburgh hosts Lutheran in a Class A sectional semifinal.
Having fully recovered from a ruptured spleen, lacerated kidney and collapsed lung, Bailey received medical clearance Oct. 16 to participate in all football-related activities, including practice, weightlifting and conditioning.
He became eligible to play after completing Wednesday’s practice, his required 10th, and can suit up for Friday.
“It’s just unreal. I wasn’t expecting to come back at all,” said Bailey, who initially was told he would never play football again — a medical assertion later mitigated to next season.
But 10 weeks after being injured in the season-opener, he will — to the amazement of coaches and teammates — play again this season, albeit with extra padding and under extra-close scrutiny.
“He’s got a clear bill of health. (His) mom and dad are OK with it. Obviously, he’s excited about it,” said Lancers coach Bill Unsworth, who has been easing Bailey back into the routine. “As far as practice goes, conditioning is probably not where it would be, but we’re going to be very judicious on how we use him and when we use him.”
The fact he’s playing at all is borderline miraculous.
While returning a kickoff at Manual during the season-opener, the 5-foot-8, 160-pound backup running back/defensive back was hit from multiple directions by defenders. Despite instant pain, the initial diagnosis was bruised or broken ribs.
After being helped off the field, he later collapsed while seated on the sideline and was driven to Franciscan St. Francis Health-Indianapolis by his parents, Harvey and Susan Bailey. Their original intention was to drive to a Columbus hospital near their home, but they stopped at St. Francis when their son — lying in the backseat — began screaming in pain.
Not until they arrived in the emergency room did they discover the full extent of the teen’s injuries. Having lost almost a quart of blood from internal bleeding, he was clinging to life.
After receiving a blood transfusion, he was flown by medical helicopter to Riley, where he spent nearly a week before going home to complete his recovery. His kidney healed up a month ago. His spleen, which doctors nearly removed, finished healing two weeks ago.
Bailey has been working his way back into football shape ever since.
“The doctor said that everything was healing up really, really, really fast, so they said I was able to play,” he said. “I feel perfect, honestly. I feel like nothing happened to me.”
Despite the severity of his injuries, Bailey has no fear about returning to the field. The person with perhaps the most trepidation is Unsworth who, coincidentally, dealt with a serious medical situation of his own when the season began.
Diagnosed during the summer with a benign spinal tumor near his neck, Unsworth was told by doctors that he might miss the season following major surgery that was performed only days before the season-opener. But like Bailey, Unsworth made a speedy recovery and returned to coaching after missing the first three games.
“I’m a big fan of modern medicine, obviously, from my situation,” Unsworth said. “It’s amazing what they can do.”
Yet Unsworth plans to be extra cautious with Bailey, whose playing time will be closely monitored.
“I’m probably the guy who’s the most scared,” Unsworth said. “But he’s gone through his recovery, and he’s gone through the rehab and practice, and I’m going to give him the opportunity to get out on the field.”
Bailey, who 10 weeks ago was told he would never play football again, plans to make the most of it, especially at a time when the Lancers (5-5) are bidding for what would be their first sectional championship in team history.
“It’s pretty cool, honestly,” Bailey said. “I’ve never won a sectional or been a part of anything big like that.”
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