In 2015, it didn’t look like Landon Skaggs’ final year of college baseball was meant to be. In fact, Skaggs was in a much deeper predicament than that. What had started out as a mysterious bout of weakness and fatigue eventually revealed itself to be much more sinister. An infection morphed into an autoimmune disorder that was soon attacking his leg before moving up to his kidneys. His body was fighting itself and the odds were against him.
After a sophomore season that saw him hit .284 from the plate, Skaggs looked set to step up and continue his growth for the 2015-16 season. But that’s when things started to go wrong. “I slowly started to feel tired and weak,” he said, describing his first realizations that something was wrong. ”I couldn’t catch my breath, and anything would make me tired. I would sleep for hours.”
After being diagnosed as anemic and given rest for two months, he returned in the spring for the start of the season and played around 20 games before regressing to the same exhaustion. Upon his next visit to the hospital, Skaggs learned that things were more serious than previously believed. Tests revealed that his hemoglobin count, a measure of how effectively blood carries oxygen, was at a dangerously low level.
A week and a half in the hospital and a round of medication hoped to reset his kidneys. But after being discharged and out for another week, it was clear that the problem hadn’t been solved. “I felt bad that night,” Skaggs said. “I was in pain.” He was taken to the emergency room and diagnosed with a blood infection due to the damage that his body had done to his kidneys and pneumonia on top of that. Things got so bad that they were forced to medically induce him into a coma.
“Two days into my coma, they told my family that there was a very high chance that I was not going to make it,” he said. When he finally did come out, he stayed in the ICU for nearly a month, followed by another eight weeks of dialysis as doctors determined that he needed a new kidney.
Once again, the odds didn’t seem to be in Skaggs’ favor. “They told me that because of my blood type, I had a 50 percent less chance of getting a donor,” he said. Luckily, the perfect match was close to home, as his mother turned out to be the best available option.
Surgery was set and the operation was to take place at a hospital in Cincinnati. Everyone was well aware of the dangers. Along with the usual risks of surgery, there was the possibility that the disease could be reoccurring, meaning that the donor kidney would be destroyed too and Skaggs’ body would continue to fail.
It was with all of that in mind that baseball gave Skaggs a sense of peace. “The team was on their way to Pittsburgh to play Point Park,” he said. “They took the long route to come see me in the hospital…it was great. It made me feel good. They really do care.”
Baseball had never been far from his mind, despite all the bad things that had been going on. “It was all I wanted to do,” he said. “I would come up to the Luce and hit by myself some times, just because I missed it so much.”
After the surgery, it has been slow progress to get back to the game he missed so much during his time off. With his first official week of practice this past week, he is still a ways off from making it back on the field. He didn’t get to feature in the team’s fall games against Ohio Christian, and an official return isn’t yet on the timeline.
“I’ve been slowly working…hitting off tees, just trying to work myself back in,” Skaggs said. “I’m ahead of schedule. I’ve been really lucky so far.” Since the surgery, he’s had to adapt his game some. He will switch from catching to acting as a designated hitter, and he was forced to adopt some new gear. “It’s the weirdest thing,” he said about the protective padding he now has to wear over the area of his new kidney.
With the average limit on a donor kidney at about 20 years, thoughts on the future aren’t something that escapes him. “When I’m alone…it’ll hit me,” he said. “I think ‘What’ll happen next?’” Most donor-recipients will have to go on dialysis again when it looks like their donated organ is beginning to fail, and they have to search for a new one. In the mean time, it’s something Skaggs tries not to dwell on. For now, he gets another season with his team and the game that he didn’t know if he would play again. Everything else will come one step at a time.
Article originally published in The Asbury Collegian