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ESCAPE FROM TRAGEDY — Umpire who first responded to Kaiser had to find a way to save himself PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 15:33


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Mark Goldfeder presents to a group of first responders explaining his struggles as a firefighter and how the tragedy of Kaiser Carlile sent him into PTSD. Courtesy photo

By EARL WATT

• Leader & Times

The pain felt by a family, community and a country almost two years ago when batboy Kaiser Carlile was accidentally hit by the swing of a bat has not totally gone away and perhaps never will.

There was another casualty that was harder to see that day and in the days that followed.

When little Kaiser was struck, another Liberal Bee Jay near home plate picked him up, but he was immediately instructed to lay Kaiser back on the ground by home plate umpire Mark Goldfeder.

Mark was not only an umpire but a first responder, and he immediately took charge of the situation until EMT crews showed up moments later.

Mark took his two-week vacation each year to travel from Florida to Wichita, leaving behind his firefighting job and his family for a hobby he truly loved — umpiring at the NBC World Series.

He always paid his own traveling expenses, and the summer of 2015 was his 15th straight year of umpiring at the tournament.

On that day, he was behind home plate when tragedy struck.

Kaiser passed away the next day, and the tournament continued.

But Mark couldn’t escape the moment, and he had no way to bring it to a close.

“When I spoke to the Carlile family, they told me when Kaiser’s funeral was, and they asked me if I could make it,” Mark said. “I will find a way to be there. I got ahold of my wife who overnighted my suit. But due to circumstances beyond my control, and how well the team did, the funeral was on the first day I was due back to work. For all my efforts I was not able to get my shift covered. I never got the chance to attend the funeral. That was a serious gap in closure for me.”

His long drive back to Florida became an agonizing time of isolation, and he may not have realized it at the time, but he was already suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Every hard call we deal with, we try to find an element of closure,” Mark said. “Realizing I was not going to be able to attend that funeral after being asked by the family, that was very difficult, and it made a long drive home that much longer.”

When he arrived back to his firefighting job, he was scheduled for training, but he explained that he had to watch the live stream of the funeral on You Tube, and his supervisor understood.

But Mark still couldn’t escape the tragedy, and additional symptoms started to occur — irritability, no tolerance, having a short fuse and the inability to relax.

“I had a doctor’s appointment already scheduled, and my doctor had been following this story closely,” Mark said. “He asked me how was I doing. I wasn’t doing that well. I was thinking about taking time off to get my head right. My doctor took me off duty for two weeks. Three days later, I still had problems trying to sort it out. I had a short fuse with my kids and wife, I was drinking, I wasn’t sleeping. It was a series of all of the big red flags that led to PTSD.”

For first responders, seeing tragedy is part of the job, and child tragedies are worse.

But according to Mike, while responders may be loaded with equipment and packs, they also carry an invisible bag, and each stressful situation, each tragedy, they add a pebble to that bag, and they carry it with them. The more tragedies, the more stress, the more pebbles, rocks and stones they carry in that bag.

Kaiser made Mark’s bag too heavy to carry any more.

“It’s not as hard when you first start,” Mark said. “Here is first sick person, first fire, the first cardiac arrest. A trauma call. The first kid cardiac. Those are all big stones, but you are young, strong, and you say, ‘Put them in. I’ll carry the load.’ You put Kaiser in there, that is a huge boulder in my backpack. One year is not a problem, three years in — now go five, 10, 30 years, sooner or later, if you don’t find a way to decrease your stress and remove those stones, one pebble drops you to your knees, and now you are broken.”

The statistics for responders who suffer stress aren’t good. They battle the images in silence, and now, suicides by first responders outnumber line-of-duty deaths.

Mark’s chaplain recommended an alternative treatment that used a rapid eye movement approach that had been working with military veterans known as accelerated resolutions therapy.

“I told him I would try anything,” Mark said. “It uses rapid eye movement to retrain your brain to remove negative images and replace them with positive images. A study at South Florida showed 86 percent of people that went through therapy saw resolution from PTSD within one to five sessions.

“I did one session, and it was like the weight had lifted. I was breathing. I slept. I had turned a corner. That put me back on to a positive path.”

Mark believed he was lucky to be surrounded by the right people to lead him out of the darkness and to be able to return to his job.

“Too many people don’t,” he said. “I went through a dark path. The demons are still there. I see Kaiser in my dreams almost every night. I still carry his baseball card in my wallet. Now, while I do see Kaiser, I also know I have Kaiser pulling with me, to help other members, firemen, law enforcement, you name it, to understand, ‘Yes, it is ok to say I am not ok.”

Mark started to perform seminars called, “The Batboy, the Firefighter and the Brotherhood.” In those seminars, he shares his experiences and also helps other first responders to prepare for the traumatic stress they will face daily, and how to unload their backpacks when they fill up.

“This program was developed to help convey that peer support and peer consultation with other first responders is the best training opportunities and therapies there are,” Mark said. “I took my journey and started to address the numbers, stereotypes that we are supposed to be strong, tough and not to ask for help. I talked about having the culture defeat those stereotypes. The first is to remove the line of ‘suck it up buttercup.’ It is ok to speak up. We will be here as part of the brotherhood. In the administrative culture, if you have a problem, they say, ‘Here is a phone number,’ and they wipe their hands clean. It has to be, ‘We are glad you spoke up. We are here to support you. We will help you, we have all these resources, and we will be with you every step of the way.”

Mark travels the country making his presentations to help first responders overcome the stereotypes.

While Mark’s 16-year run at the NBC will come to an end this year after the tournament notified him that he was not selected this year after being named the Umpire of the Year at last year’s tournament, he had nothing but positive remarks for the NBC and the impact it has had on his life.

And while he will carry Kaiser with him for the rest of his life, he has also learned how to share Kaiser’s story and his own in a way to help others.

“If we can save one person, we win,” Mark said. “If we save more, we save us all. Instead of defining PTSD, we are trying to change the definition to be Proud Tough Strong and Determined.”

 

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The High Plains Daily Leader and Southwest Daily Times are published Sunday through Friday and reaches homes throughout the Liberal, Kansas retail trade zone. The Leader & Times is the official newspaper of Seward County, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 and the cities of Liberal and Kismet.  The Leader & Times is a member of the Liberal Chamber of Commerce, the Kansas Press Association and the Associated Press.

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