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Zac Lyon possesses a greater appreciation for his health and ability to throw a fastball.
Dyersville Beckman’s senior left-hander battled to restore both.
Lyon has returned to the mound for the Blazers after undergoing brain surgery in January to correct a condition called Chiari Malformation I that caused bouts of partial paralysis.
In a little more than three months after the procedure, Lyon was cleared by medical personnel and had a baseball in hand days before the prom.
“I was very happy when I started throwing again,” Lyon said. “It felt like I was back to it. There was no doubt in my mind I’d be back playing baseball.”
He told Beckman Coach Tom Jenk Jr. and the University of Wisconsin medical staff before the Jan. 7 operation in Madison, Wis., that his goal was to pitch again.
“It says a lot about his toughness,” Jenk said. “It shows people what can be done, if you really believe.
“He never doubted and remained positive. He (kept) telling me ‘Coach, I’ll be back.’ He made me a believer. I was hoping I’d get him in early July and I guess I got an early Christmas present.”
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, Chiari Malformation I occurs when brain tissue extends into your spinal canal. Pro golfer J.B. Holmes also had the affliction and surgery.
Lyon’s symptoms discreetly surfaced at the end of last season.
As the No. 2 starter for Beckman’s second straight Class 2A state champion team, Lyon recognized his ability to recuperate was slower than all-state teammate Joey Lehmann.
“We would pitch on the same day and he would recover faster than me, which didn’t make any sense because at the beginning of the year I recovered at the same time as him,” Lyon said. “That’s how I noticed there was something a little bit off.”
The situation worsened in the fall. Lyon lost strength during football season and then received a hit that made his shoulder numb.
Lyon endured partial paralysis of some of his appendages.
“It was a little (scary) at first,” Lyon said. “I’m not one to complain a lot, so I adjusted to what was going on so if it did happen I’d be ready.”
Physical therapy made the injury worse. Lyon traveled to Dubuque to see a doctor, who suggested an MRI. The test quickly revealed the problem.
“It was supposed to last two hours,” Lyon said. “After 30 minutes, they shut the machine down and said you’re done. We found what we are looking for.”
They received the diagnosis about a week later. The family first sought treatment in Iowa City. At that time, the effects weren’t as bad and Lyon said the staff wanted to wait and see him a few months later.
“The symptoms got worse and we decided to get a second opinion and went to Madison,” Lyon said. “I went for a checkup during Christmas break, I think. He said he’d do the surgery as soon as he got back from his vacation.”
A small part of the back of his skull was removed, allowing spinal fluid to flow properly.
He doesn’t remember much of his four to five days in the hospital, spending the first part in the Intensive Care Unit.
He had a stiff neck, because they sliced through most of his muscles. The results were immediate and therapy wasn’t necessary.
“I noticed the change right away,” Lyon said. “They were doing standardized testing to make sure muscle movement worked and everything. It all worked fine. I noticed a lot of difference moving my shoulders.”
Jenk said he was nervous about the situation and that Lyon’s safety comes first. He was glad to see Lyon return and recalled his player’s reaction to medical reports that permitted the return.
“The day he was cleared he was on the mound and threw some pitches,” Jenk said. “He had a smile for each one.”
The rest of the Blazers received a boost as well. He was the top returning pitcher, going 8-1 with a 2.14 earned-run average and 40 strikeouts last season.
“We’re trying to get some stamina,” Jenk said before the season. “He’s ready to go 100 percent. We’re being real careful with him. We’re not going to push him.”
This season, Lyon is 3-3 with his three losses coming to two 4A schools and a 3A program. Beckman is the top-ranked team in 2A.
“Having him on the team has been so huge for us,” Tony Anstoetter said. “He’s a great pitcher. We really needed him.”
Lyon’s greatest impact might come off the diamond as he is an inspiration for a team looking for its third straight state title.
“He’s a strong kid. He fought through it and now he’s back,” senior Mitch Steger said. “It makes you more motivated. You just never know what game will be your last so you go out and play hard.”
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