Dunkirk Observer Today

More than just a game

Life-threatening injury to coach brings Wolverines together

This season whenever a Westfield Wolverine baseball player has any self-doubt during a game, all they will need to do is look into the dugout and see coach Doug Kaltenbach to remind himself that the word “can’t” is not an excuse.On Feb. 5, 2011, Kaltenbach was cutting a piece of molding with an electric chop saw when his sleeve got caught in the blade and the saw ended up cutting through Kaltenbach’s left wrist. Fortunately for Kaltenbach, he had just been recertified in emergency first aid the week prior to the accident and knew what he had to do.

“I thought to myself, ‘I can’t go into shock and faint,’” Kaltenbach recalled. “I severed 5/6th of my arm. I knew if I fainted I would die.”

Kaltenbach and his wife, Jane, quickly made a tourniquet out of a dog leash to try to control the bleeding.

When the Brocton Emergency Team arrived, they quickly transported Kaltenbach to Brooks Memorial Hospital. From there, he was taken to the ECMC trauma unit.

“What got to me was when the Brocton emergency people arrived and said my vital signs were really bad and they knew I was in trouble. That’s when panic took over the pain. I remember I kept saying “Don’t cut my hand off.’ When I got to the trauma unit, my focus shifted from saving my arm to saving my life.”

After three blood transfusions, more than 150 dissolvable stitches and 160 staples to reattach his hand, Kaltenbach went through a seven-hour surgery five days later led by Dr. John Callahan to fix the muscles, tendons, ligaments and arteries.

Now, the left-handed art teacher and baseball coach at Westfield Central School is learning how to use his right hand for everyday chores.

“I can’t tie my shoes or zip up a zipper,”Kaltenbach said. “I have a new appreciation for people with handicaps. I am listed as one right now. My hand is basically amputated and until it becomes usable, that’s the way it is. It’s an adjustment period that has been unbelievable.”

Doctors tried telling Kaltenbnach he may not be able to go back to work or coach baseball this season.

Kaltenbach did not listen.

“I said I want to draw and coach baseball,” Kaltenbach, who has coached baseball for 24 years, said. “One doctor said, ‘ That may not happen.’ I said, ‘I have to do it. It’s not just a baseball thing. It’s a therapy thing for me.’ I have gone from being an active coach and art teacher, to being excited I could twitch my finger a 1/16th of an inch. People kept saying, ‘You can’t do it. It might not be the right move for you to coach baseball.’”

But that is not the way Kaltenbach wanted to quit.

Kaltenbach, who has been seen hitting fly balls and playing catch during practices in past years, has been relegated to the sidelines where he coaches from afar and allows assistant coaches Dan Martin and Don Mansfield to take the role of being the hands on coaches.

“I am lucky to have Dan and Don,” Kaltenbach said. “They’ve been with me for years and are awesome. We have worked together so long that it works out. I have to stay back. I can’t bump this thing. We went outside the other day and I can’t swing a bat. That was frustrating. I just want to go out and hit a fly ball and I can’t. I think of other things to do.”

And while Kaltenbach is thankful for his assistant coaches, it has been the players who have taken a leadership role and come to Kaltenbach’s aid in more ways than one.

When the players heard of the accident, Kaltenbach’s cell phone was filled with text messages and phone calls from the players, wishing their skipper well. Players offered to shovel his driveway in the winter and have been there to help tie Kaltenbach’s shoes or zip up his jacket.

Along with his 16-year-old daughter, Olivia, Kaltenbach feels he now has 13 sons as well.

“I have awesome kids with me who help and are just unbelievable,” Kaltenbach raved. “They have become my second family. They’ve helped me through this thing. My family has been awesome, my players have been great and so have the kids in my art classes. I have the right group of kids. If I didn’t have the right group of kids, who were caring and understanding, this would be impossible for me to do. We are all going to get something out of this. They are good kids to be around. I ask my players to tie my shoes and they don’t blink twice. Win or lose, this is a situation that pulls everyone together.”

On the opening day of practice, Kaltenbach held his beginning-of-the-year meeting with his players and talked to them more about life than he did baseball.

“You will never understand how much it means to me to coach you this year,” he told them. “I know this is a baseball team, but to me this is more than that.”

It is still not known how much Kaltenbach will be able to use his left hand. And though there are depressing days for the coach, it is his players who are helping their coach get through this life-altering experience.

“They know how close I came to checking out,” Kaltenbach said. “I need them physically and mentally. They know that. It’s a very enlightening experience for all of us.”

Kaltenbach concluded by saying, “My family and I would like to thank everyone who has taken the time to support us and continue to support me in the future.”

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