Despite brain injury, Penn-Trafford junior varsity baseball coach feels 'blessed'
As he spent nearly a month in a local hospital and rehabilitation center recovering from a “scary” brain injury, John Shusteric heard a familiar refrain.
“(People) basically said I'm a lucky guy,” he said.
But Shusteric prefers a different word: “blessed.”
“I've been through some (difficult) situations — the doctor told me I shouldn't even be here,” said Shusteric, 56, of Irwin. “It's been a real life-changing experience, believe me.”
Shusteric, the junior varsity baseball coach at Penn-Trafford, was fishing with friends at Canoe Creek State Park in Blair County on April 13, the first day of trout fishing season, when he said he started to get “a really bad headache” in the back of his head.
Soon enough, the pain spread the whole way around his head.
“It was by far the worst pain I've ever felt,” Shusteric said.
Shusteric eventually lost consciousness.He was taken first to Altoona Hospital and then to UPMC Presbyterian. Shusteric spent more than two weeks at UPMC Presbyterian, where he said doctors diagnosed him with a broken blood vessel in his brain.
After Presbyterian, Shusteric was transferred to HealthSouth Harmarville Rehabilitation Hospital, where he spent time working on exercises to get his balance and strength back. He was released May 9.
Though Shusteric said he never experienced any paralysis and is “feeling good” now, he knows that might not have been the case were it not for some quick action from his friends when the injury first happened.
When the injury first occurred, Shusteric attempted to walk by himself after leaving one of the fishing boats. One of his friends, walking behind him, noticed Shusteric was unsteady on his feet and grabbed hold of him. The group got in touch with the park rangers, which helped Shusteric get to the hospital quickly.
“I believe that's a big part of the whole thing, getting me down there fast,” Shusteric said. “It made a big difference.”
Shusteric, who also teaches health and physical education at Penn-Trafford High School and handles the intramural program at the high school, began coaching the freshman baseball team when he came to the district in 1997. He said he had been involved with the junior varsity program for about seven years.
The Penn-Trafford varsity baseball team honored its coach with prayers after his injury, with sophomore pitcher Ryan Fasnacht even stepping off the mound to do so during a game. Shusteric said he received an overwhelming response from the community while he was in the hospital, both in visitors and cards.
“They sent me all kind of notes down to Presbyterian,” Shusteric said. “One nurse I had thought I was maybe some sort of celebrity because I had so many note cards and responses from people.”
He said his family — Kathy, his wife of 34 years, 30-year-old daughter Melanie and 27-year-old son Daniel — also helped him get through his ordeal, as did members of his church. He said several of his friends came and visited on his son's wedding day, which occurred during his hospital stay.
While Shusteric wasn't allowed to return to coaching or teaching this spring, he said athletic director Kerry Hetrick already spoke to him about coming back next year.
“John's a great friend, and he's a big help,” Hetrick said. “He's a big part of our athletic program. He does things for me from A to Z, and it's not the same here without him. I miss him being around.”
For now, Shusteric will continue his recovery at home.
“I'm just going to try to ... get stronger and take care of myself right now,” he said. “That's got to be my top priority right now, getting back in shape.”
Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.