Softball Nails Breastfeeding Newborn in the Head & She's Making a Miracle Recovery

McKenna Hovenga
Healing for McKenna/Facebook

On what was supposed to be one of their first fun outings since welcoming baby McKenna, an unthinkable accident changed everything for the Hovenga family. On May 2, Kassy was holding her 7-week-old daughter in the stands at an Iowa baseball field as they prepared to watch her husband, Lee, play softball. McKenna was nestled in her mom's arms getting ready to breastfeed and tragically, nobody saw as a ball headed towards the stands before it struck McKenna in her head

  • McKenna suffered a traumatic brain injury that left her fighting for her life.

    At the time of the accident, another game was finishing up and Lee was with them. He had his back turned to the field as he was helping Kassy with her breastfeeding cover when the ball came flying into the stands. "The ball came over the fence -- and either hit McKenna first or hit Kassy first," McKenna's great aunt, Laura, wrote on a Facebook page dedicated to her progress. "We're really not sure as it happened so fast and Kassy was looking down at McKenna as she was feeding. Neither of them saw the ball as it came over the fence."

    The ball gave Kassy a large bump on her bicep but McKenna didn't start to scream until seconds later. "They were unaware that she was even hit, until the large lump formed. It happened that fast," Laura wrote.

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  • She had to be airlifted to St. Mary's Hospital at Mayo Clinic as doctors fought to stabilize brain bleeds and seizures.

    The ball's impact caused serious damage to the newborn's head including skull fractures and two brain bleeds. She was initially taken to Waverly Health Center in Waverly, Iowa before being transported to St. Mary’s Hospital at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

    She was put on a ventilator in the pediatric intensive care unit as she suffered from seizures, some lasting over an hour, during the days that followed her accident. "One of the doctors sat Kassy down and told her that she needed to stop looking at the future and start focusing on the day to day," Laura wrote on the Facebook page. "That's probably from too much of us asking what each thing means for the future or when we can get better answers as far as what is causing the seizures. It is so very hard to wait and wait and not know. So... Day by day it is. We know it's going to take time... It's just hard. It's just hard."

  • Of course, some people blamed Kassy and Lee but their family isn't having that. 

    "I just wanted to be clear that they were in a safe location, this was her first outing other than to see family or go to grocery store or doctor's appointments ... it was a great evening of warm weather to finally escape the confines of the house," Laura wrote. "Unfortunately, we can't bubble wrap our babies, as much as we may want ... Let's keep things positive and not point fingers. Accidents happen and this is just one horrible happenstance. We blame NO ONE." 

  • A photo of McKenna smiling just the night before her accident is a reminding for parents of how quickly things can change.

    "I was going to post these on Facebook to share with family and friends Wednesday before the game but didn’t have time. It’s scary that this was the last time I saw her smile, heard her laugh, and got to hold her," Lee wrote the day after the accident. "This is giving me so much hope right now. I’m so grateful for all of the prayers and support we are receiving from all across Iowa and America ... Tonight I will be praying for everyone else’s children and family’s in hopes they never have to experience what we are going through."

  • Thankfully after 40 days in the hospital, McKenna was finally allowed to go home.

    McKenna, who celebrated her 3-month birthday while still in the hospital, returned to her Iowa home on June 11 after over six weeks in the hospital. Although she still has a diffcult road to recovery and the long-term impact of her brain damage isn't clear, her family is thrilled for how far she's already come.

    "We are so thankful and deeply moved by the generous support and the uplifting messages that we are receiving from friends, family and those we do not know, but now consider our friends,” Kassy and Lee said in a statement to People. “At this time, we are uncertain what the outcome of this will be. We have to take everything that is happening hour by hour ... Her status is constantly changing. Our little McKenna is a fighter, and we are hopeful she will continue to fight to overcome this.”

  • Now, the Hovengas are working to find their new normal at home as they continue focusing on McKenna's care.

    "In some ways, leaving [the hospital] felt as surreal as that very first drive there," Laura wrote on her blog, Healing for McKenna. "It is such a relief that this chapter of McKenna's story has come to an end, although we know that a new one is now beginning."