Palmetto girl hit by baseball faces surgery today

by Ana Ivey


Surgery is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today at Emory Hospital in Atlanta for 12-year-old Summer Johnson. 

Palmetto youngster Summer Johnson refuses to believe her eye doctor’s prognosis — that she will never regain sight in her left eye.

After a baseball traveling close to 100 mph slammed into her left eye Aug. 18 in Long Beach, California, Summer’s vision in that eye is all but lost.

“It’s blurry everywhere, and dark in the middle,” said the lanky 12-year-old from her log home in Palmetto. “And I see two of everything from my peripheral vision.” Much of her face is numb on her left side.

The hazel-eyed girl with sleek blond hair down to her waist is no stranger to baseball parks. She has been toted to her older brother’s ball games for as long as she can remember. On the day of the accident, she was watching her brother, Kel Johnson, compete for a spot on the 18 and under U.S. Olympic baseball team. She was sitting in the stands along the third base line.

“The pitcher happened to be throwing in the upper ‘90s that evening and the baseball came off the bat like a missile,” said Rhonda Johnson, Summer’s mother. “It made the loudest cracking sound when it hit her face — a sound I wish I could forget.”

The crowd at Long Beach State University’s baseball field fell silent, horrified.

“I sort of blacked out for a second then came back immediately and started looking around,” said Summer. “Tommy Lasorda (of the Los Angeles Dodgers) was talking to me, but I couldn’t completely see him.”

“Instantly I’m going through this in my brain and I’m thinking, this is not okay,” said Johnson, a homeschool mom and an on-call cytologist for St. Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta. “The velocity of the ball. The impact. A 12-year-old girl. I didn’t know what the outcome would be but I knew it would be very serious.”

When they arrived at the hospital, the trauma team was equally horrified.

“They told me I needed to be ready to make some fast decisions,” said Johnson. “A neurosurgeon was on his way and there was a good chance she’d need emergency brain surgery.”

Johnson called her husband, Lee, a Fairburn taxidermist, who was back at home with their 21-year-old son, Jason, and she called her pastor, Gene Tyre of Providence Baptist Church in Palmetto.

A prayer chain spread quickly throughout Coweta, Fulton, and neighboring counties, and a Facebook page titled Prayers for Summer Johnson was set up. It has more than 1,500 followers.

Summer’s cousin also created a website, , with updates and photos. It contains a message from Summer’s brother Kel, an outfielder and power hitter who went on to make the 18U Team USA baseball team and is currently playing for gold in Taiwan.

“Wearing this Johnson #25 jersey for my little sister Summer who wears the same number,” he wrote. “Playing my heart out for ya little one! Gonna be home soon to hang that gold medal around your neck and give you a big brother hug."

After four days in intensive care and with brain surgery no longer a threat, Summer flew home on a private plane Aug. 23.

Today, Summer faces the first of an anticipated three to five surgeries necessary to reconstruct the bones surrounding her left eye, all of which were fractured or shattered. Surgery is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. today at Emory Hospital in Atlanta.

No matter what the ophthalmologist has told her, Summer – a catcher for the Pink Panthers competitive softball team – remains optimistic about her sight.

“I just know it’s going to come back,” she said.

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