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LIFE TAKES A TURN: North Dakota man loses eye after softball injury

Brandon Christianson, 27, of Fargo, N.D., lost his right eye after being hit by a softball during an amateur tournament this year. (Dave Wallis / The Forum, Fargo, N.D.)

FARGO, N.D. — Brandon Christianson is no longer the pool player he once was.

And when he talks with his hands, he has to worry about knocking something over.

But it’s the dreams that confuse him the most.

“When I dream, I dream that I have two eyes,” said Christianson, 27, of Fargo, N.D. “And then you wake up and you can’t see out of it. Yeah, you kind of shock yourself a little bit.”

Christianson was struck by a softball while pitching at a state tournament in August. Since then, he has undergone three surgeries, including an operation to remove his right eye. Now, the father of two, who works two jobs, is learning to live with, and even joke about, his new reality.

“It’s something I have to deal with,” Christianson said after a day of work on the assembly line at Crary Industries in West Fargo, N.D. “It’s not like I can change it, so there’s no need to cry about it.”

That Saturday in August was a hot, windy day. Christianson pitched; the batter hit a line drive, and Christianson watched as the softball headed toward him faster than he could move his glove. It struck him on the lower right side of his right eye socket, and he fell to his hands and knees.

“I rushed to Essentia,” said his mother, Michelle Christianson, 50. “Walking into an emergency room and seeing your child, adult child, with blood tears — it’s an image you don’t forget.”

That blow created a fracture on the right side and a small hole in the lower part of Brandon’s eye socket. His eye was also split down the middle, 14 mm deep into a diameter of 24 mm.

Doctors at the University of Minnesota were hoping he’d be able to undergo a corneal transplant and retina reattachment, but the retina was beyond repair.

“Basically they came back with: ‘The damage was just too severe, there’s nothing they can do, they have to remove the eye,’” Michelle said of her son’s second surgery.

Brandon now has a clear prosthetic eye in his right socket. He was set to receive a colored cover that makes it look like his left eye this month, but he won’t regain his vision.

“I would have given him one of mine,” Michelle said. “But I’ve researched it, and they don’t do full eye transplants. This is a done deal for him. It’s going to be an adjustment.”

Married on same diamond

Brandon said the recovery isn’t as bad as people might think.

“It sucks sometimes, but other times, really, if you don’t pay attention to it, you don’t notice,” he said. “Where it’s not so fun is when you’re doing the things that you used to do. I haven’t been shooting yet, but I’m going to have to relearn how to shoot, and that’s going to be frustrating. Playing pool and losing, that’s frustrating.”

After almost two months away from work, Brandon has returned to his jobs at Crary Industries and as a tire lube technician at Tires Plus.

Brandon and his wife, Jennifer, have two children, John, 5, and Kiera, 3. The couple married only recently, so she could make medical decisions if needed. In an odd twist, they held the ceremony with the softball team on the same field where Brandon was injured.

“Oh, that doesn’t bother me,” Brandon said.

“We joke about that. He married her at the ballpark that he lost his eye at,” Michelle said. “But I know my son, and he loves softball, and he loves his team.”

In five years, Brandon has missed only one game in his slow-pitch men’s league, and that was for a doctor’s appointment in the Twin Cities.

“The team is not just his team. It’s his friends and his family,” Michelle said. “It’s the reason why Brandon has kept it together. I don’t know what we would have done without his team.”

As Brandon continues to recover, Michelle hopes to raise awareness about the dangers of forgoing protective gear. Specifically, she wants the North Dakota Amateur Softball Association to require pitchers to wear a face mask.

A voicemail message left for the NDASA was not returned.

“It is important because this can happen,” said Michelle, who recently walked around with one eye closed to try to know her son’s situation. “I mean, that’s a lot of damage from a ball.”