Luke Holko, aboard Akron Children’s transport helicopter Air Bear, made a celebratory landing at Eastwood Field, home of the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Sunday.
Sadly, Luke’s first ride on Air Bear was 6 years ago today, leaving the ballpark for Akron Children’s after a line drive fractured his skull.
Luke has made a remarkable recovery and his return to Eastwood Field comes full circle.
“This is so exciting – and a bit nerve wracking,” said Nicole Holko, before the helicopter ride to the stadium, where Luke was cheered on by the crowd and threw out the first pitch.
“Six years ago, we just didn’t know if we would be here. We didn’t know if Luke would wake up, walk or talk,” Nicole said.
Luke, then 4, was sitting with his mom and his dad, Chad, in the front row of the first base line when a foul ball knocked him unconscious. As the stadium went silent, first responders came to his aid and Luke was life-flighted to Akron Children’s pediatric intensive care unit.
He spent 9 days in a medically-induced coma and a total of 4 weeks in Akron Children’s PICU. Intensive therapy followed as Luke slowly regained his speech and motor skills.
Today, at age 10, he’s doing great.
“He plays baseball and basketball like any other 10-year-old boy,” Nicole said. “We got the results of his 3rd grade testing and Luke scored in the accelerated range. Luke is shattering preconceived barriers and showing the world how tough and smart he is … no little ol’ brain injury will slow him down.”
As difficult as Luke’s ordeal would be for any family, the Holkos, of Green Township in Trumbull County, has always found the silver lining.
They grew close to Ben Carlson, the ballplayer whose ball hit Luke and remain friends. The Mahoning Valley community embraced the family and Luke developed a special bond with many of his caregivers.
He continues to check in with Dr. Micah Baird, his pediatric physiatrist, every 6 weeks.
The Holko family’s love for baseball has never diminished and the baseball community from as near as the Cleveland Indians and as big and far as the Major League Baseball organization rallied around him. The Scrappers have hosted a “Luke Holko Day” the past 5 years.
On Sunday, after being greeted by Scrappy, the Scrappers’ bulldog mascot, Luke was reunited with Julie Wyatt, who was one of the transport nurses on his Air Bear flight 6 years ago.
“It was such a special day and we would really like to thank the Scrappers, Akron Children’s transport team, St. Joseph’s Hospital and everyone who made it possible,” said Nicole.
America loves its baseball players, along with football and basketball players and other professional athletes.
But Luke Holko’s recovery is a great reminder that well-trained paramedics, doctors, nurses and therapists should also be revered. Not to mention, loving parents and determined kids.
“Luke is such an inspiration and my little hero,” said Nicole. “I know we have many more great things to see from him.”