This wasn’t how Nick Owens envisioned the summer before his senior year.He was in a hospital bed, and every 45 minutes he would throw up, pass out, wake up and throw up again.He had expected to play showcase baseball with the South Charlotte Panthers. Illness changed his plans but didn’t take his passion for the game.This week, the Charlotte Christian senior shortstop is competing in the state playoffs.“I just wanted to get out of the hospital because I just hated being in there,” he said recently. “I just wanted to go see my friends and just do normal things.”Charlotte Christian coach Greg Simmons saw Owens skinny and sick in the hospital. Now he watches Owens scoop ground balls, fling them to first, or hit doubles into the gap.“It’s amazing,” Simmons said. “To see him out there and know what he went through … you look at the kid and you say, ‘That’s a warrior out there.’ ”In May 2013, Owens, who lives in Waxhaw, was named N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association all-state after helping Charlotte Christian win a second straight state championship. He hit .410 that junior season, with 27 RBIs.He also was named as a National Christian School Athletic Association All-American and committed to play at N.C. State.But Owens didn’t feel well during a club tryout in June. His running times and throwing velocity were down sharply from a tryout for the Powerade State Games the week before.He didn’t play much in the State Games in June. He had bicep tendonitis, his body was aching and he felt sick.Right after the championship game, he went behind the dugout and threw up.Owens, 18, went to the emergency room to see a pediatrician, thinking it was dehydration or mononucleosis. But he kept vomiting.A few days after the State Games, he was admitted to Presbyterian Hospital.“I just thought he was sick,” said Nick’s father, John Owens. “Thought it was a virus or something.”An unknown causeNick Owens said he doesn’t remember much from his hospital stay at Presbyterian. “I was throwing up most of the time there,” he said.Doctors tested him for every virus and bacteria common to the region but couldn’t find a match.Owens lost 25 pounds from his already slender 6-foot frame. He had been proud of having gained nearly 20 pounds his junior season, bringing him to about 165.After 10 days at Presbyterian without answers, John and Stacy, Nick’s mother, moved Nick to Duke University Medical Center.“I just wanted to get better,” Owens said. “I didn’t really think of it as being that serious, like hospital serious, until they were taking me to Duke. … That kind of scared me.”Owens was put under the care of Digestive Disorders Specialist Dr. Nancy McGreal. She had answers.His stomach was paralyzed and needed to reboot, a condition called gastroparesis. She’d seen it before; it likely was caused by an unknown virus.“Once I got to Duke I wasn’t scared anymore, because when (McGreal) said, ‘I’ve seen this, I know it’s hard as a parent but he’s going to get better,’ ” Stacy said. “It could be a month, it could be six months, you know. There’s no time limit for how long it takes for the body to reboot itself, but she said he’s going to get hungry and want to eat and stop throwing up.”Support from all overOwens has always been active, playing football, basketball and baseball until his freshman year of high school, when he decided to focus on baseball.While in the hospital he missed seeing his younger brother, Jack, older sister, Alexa, and his friends. He also missed baseball.“Not being able to move or do anything kind of like plays mind games with you,” he said.South Charlotte Panthers and Charlotte Christian teammates came to see him, as did Panthers coach Don Hutchins and Simmons.College coaches sent cards and called. N.C. State assistant coach Chris Hart called to say Owens still had a place on the team.The hashtag #PrayforNick began popping up on Twitter, started by Jack, also a player on Charlotte Christian’s baseball team. Players and coaches as far away as California were praying for Owens.“It affected a whole community of baseball players,” Stacy said. “I feel like God used Nick in that way, to make a difference.”Charlotte Christian assistant coach Reid Fronk visited Owens and gave him a baseball that read, “God is in control.”“I just remember holding that baseball at night,” Owens said. “If I had a bad day I would hold on to that.”Owens took a Bible class in his junior year at Charlotte Christian. He recalls a discussion about how comfortable life was for the students in Charlotte, and how sometimes you need to be uncomfortable.“I just remember praying one night to God and saying, like, ‘God, can you just mix up my life? Do something to just make me rely on you. Make me have nothing so I can just rely on you,’ ” Owens said. “I didn’t think of how powerful that prayer could have been, but then came the summer and all that happened.”At long last, progressDoctors and nurses at Duke wanted Owens to go 48 hours without vomiting before letting him go home. But every day at Duke he got more depressed.A nurse practitioner told Stacy Owens that she would never let a child out as sick as Nick, but after 18 days at Duke – 28 total in the hospital – he was allowed to go home. He still couldn’t keep food down. He had to take several medicines and wear a battery-operated backpack that pumped 2,000 calories into his body each day.John and Stacy took Nick straight to the beach. Topsail Beach is Owens’ “happy place,” Stacy said. He didn’t throw up at first, but the sickness came back on the four-hour ride home.The vomiting continued and the acid was irritating his esophagus. By August, John and Stacy were desperate for a remedy. “As parents, we wanted to fix it and get it better right away, because watching your son suffer like that was the hardest thing,” John said.A friend of John’s at Showcase Baseball Academy suggested Dr. Ray Drury, an upper cervical doctor in Charlotte. The chiropractic doctor focuses on the top two bones in the neck.John was skeptical at first; however, “I’ll go to a voodoo doctor if I have to at this time,” he recalls thinking.With McGreal’s blessing, John took Nick to Drury.Drury took a heat scan of Owens’ neck and saw that the right side was much hotter than the left. Drury told Owens that one of the top two bones in his neck was pushing against his brainstem. They think the injury came from a concussion suffered freshman year.Drury pushed the bone off the brainstem. Owens recalls feeling his neck pop, then he went to lay down.He then felt hungry for the first time since June. He ate half a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the first solid food he’d had in two months.“It was delicious,” he said. “Food started tasting a lot better.”Nick stopped throwing up and immediately stopped taking his medication. He stopped wearing the backpack in early September.Back to 100 percentIn September, before Owens was allowed back on the field, he would stretch at Showcase, where John works full time. He couldn’t work out, but he wanted to be near the game.“It’s something I could have done at home, but just being around baseball and hearing the sound of a mitt popped by a ball and the tings off the bat, those sorts of things,” Owens said. “I just wanted to hear that.”Owens says he’s back to 100 percent this spring, playing for Charlotte Christian. He’s gained back the weight, and in November, he signed with N.C. State.He’s hitting .318, with a team-high 27 RBIs and a fielding percentage of .908.“Baseball as a game is just so special to me that it’s part of me. It’s what I do,” Owens said. “There’s just this feeling that I get when I’m at shortstop … I don’t even know how to really explain it. It just feels like, it’s who I am, almost. I feel at home there.”
Monday, May. 12, 2014
His prayer answered, Charlotte shortstop is back on the field
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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