O'FALLON, Ill. — It's normal for a football player to be aware of the hits they may take on the field. But what about the life-changing hits off it? What if there's a hit you couldn't have prepared for or foreseen?
Arron Whitt Jr. isn't letting the biggest hit of his life keep him from playing football.
“I feel like coach is kinda scared of playing me," said the O'Fallon senior.
It's understandable. The coaching staff has been slowly easing Arron back into the sport.
It's only been a little more than a year since Arron suffered a stroke after all.
“He had a very large and very severe stroke," said Dr. Kristin Guilliams, a neurologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital and one of the doctors who saved Arron’s life in June of last year.
“We knew if we didn’t get the blood clot out, all of that tissue would die," she said.
So how does a seemingly healthy 15-year-old athlete suddenly have a stroke? Doctors can't find any correlating causes specific to Arron.
But Arron can tell you what happened before the life-changing moment on June 19, 2017 while at the first day of summer football workouts.
“I was really turning it up that day…. and then I got a headache," he said. "And they were like ‘push through, you got it.,’ and I was like, ‘alright, I got it. I don't feel no more pain."
Whitt got a ride home from a friend. But that's when things took a turn for the worse.
“I took a step, and I fell, back on my head, and I was like, ‘oh crap.' And I tried to call, and then my arm gave out. And that’s when I knew something was wrong," said Arron.
Aaron was airlifted to St. Louis Children's Hospital where he underwent an emergency thrombectomy. His life was saved on his 16th birthday, quite the gift.
“It took about a good full year for Aaron to really, really get back to the point to where he is now," said Arron Whitt Sr.
Arron's recovery since that day has been nothing short of remarkable. It shouldn't be too surprising considering Arron's first words following his life-saving surgery.
"Arron’s gonna be back at football practice," he said to the entire family crammed inside his hospital room.
After an extensive and rigorous rehab, Arron was cleared to play football again in July and is now appearing in games for the first time since his stroke.
"He's my hero," said Aaron Sr.
“He brings everybody together," he said. “The most important thing that I want people to know about Arron is he’s resilient.”
Arron has embraced his challenge to return to the football field. And he's not done yet.
“If you quit you’ll be a quitter for the rest of your life," he said. "I want to look onto the future and what I can do to help others.”
“If it takes every breath of my body. I’m going to be the greatest. I’m going to make it ... I want to inspire people."
A pediatric stroke is more common than you may think. Nearly 5,000 U.S. children have a stroke each year.
Just like strokes in adults, strokes in kids are unpredictable and usually involve the same symptoms.
While head and neck injuries can increase risk, the only ways to help prevent a stroke is to live a healthy lifestyle: no smoking, good diet and staying hydrated.
As for Arron?
He hopes to play college football, possibly attending UNLV next fall.