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Life After Loss: The Story of Evan Baubles

Evan BaublesPeter Evan Baubles woke to the sound of knuckles tapping the passenger-side window of his family’s 2000 Pontiac Grand Am and a man’s voice saying, “Hey buddy, are you okay?”

Was he okay? What happened?  He could barely gain the strength to open his eyes, and could not feel a muscle in his body.  He willed his eyes open for a fleeting glance; seeing his father, slumped over the steering wheel in the driver’s seat. Seeing him bleeding, motionless, he knew the man he admired his whole life was gone.

Fading in and out of consciousness, he worried about his younger brother Colin, who was horizontally sleeping across the back seat. He would later find out he had lost him, too.

Soon, the glass of the window on his door was shattered and Baubles’ 23 year-old body was being dragged onto the road. He heard the rotors of the rescue helicopter above cutting through the air and drifted back into the darkness.

Baubles, who is now 30 and goes mostly by his middle name, is an aide at Asbury Park Middle School who specializes in working with the 8th grade alternative school.  He also works one-on-one, shadowing a student who happens to suffer from bipolar disorder.

But before he was teaching, coaching baseball, football, and track, and finishing his college degree online, Baubles was just a normal child growing up on the shore in Wall Township, NJ.

Baubles exceled in multiple sports as a child, mostly football and baseball, and grew up in a family that may have had their difficulties, but were tightly knit, especially him and his father.  They were a no-nonsense, extremely active group.

“It was always something,” Baubles said about his dynamic childhood.  “It was rec basketball, or little league baseball, or Pop Warner football. Sports, sports, sports.”

However, when Baubles was in third grade his parents got divorced, and he went to live with his mother in Toms River, NJ. Coping with unmatched maturity for such a delicate age, Baubles never saw his parents’ separation as a traumatic endeavor.  More importantly, he never saw it as his fault.

But after a year he was back in Wall with his dad, his brother Colin, and his sister Alyssa, while his other younger brother, Dylan, went to live with his mom permanently. Despite the divorce, he remembers the lessons his father taught him about the importance of a family’s togetherness.

Whether it was going to main beach in Manasquan, to the movies, or watching Jeopardy at home, it was perpetually about being together. And, like a sponge, young Baubles soaked up the time he spent with his family and admired the colossal giant he got to call “Dad.”

“You don’t understand that as a kid as much,” Baubles said about his family’s inseparability. “But you understand it now as an adult when you’re older; I appreciate how hard he worked to keep the family together.”

As Baubles proceeded into his high school years, he solidified his status as the self-proclaimed “bread winner, the Secretariat” child in the family. He was outrivaled in his two main sports, football and baseball, while also spending some time on the basketball court in between technical fouls.

“I remember we had just played in the Shore Conference Finals,” said Wall Township Head Coach Todd Schmitt, thinking back on his time coaching Baubles. “And right after the game, [Evan] was ready to go to the junior prom. He had a life outside of baseball and sports.” Schmitt also recalls the fervent bond Baubles had with his father.  “No matter what he did, he wanted to please his father,” Schmitt said.

However, as his popularity grew, he refrained from molding into an atypical jock who spends his time drinking and partying on the weekends. Although he did have friends that lived the partying life, he respected it, but his non-conforming outlook on life, and a fear of a relentless “ass-kicking” by his authoritarian father kept him at bay.

To this day, he stresses that having a well-rounded high school experience was extremely important to him. That living in the moment and not subduing yourself to being trapped into one niche is key to a happy school experience.

When high school was over, Baubles knew what he wanted to do: become a professional baseball player and make enough money to support his family.  However, when the monetary situation wasn’t right, he needed to make a decision about college. The choices were: go to a four year school, and after three years he would be eligible for the draft, or go down south to a junior college and become eligible after one year.

So, it was off to Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, FL.

“It all started summer of my senior year, I was playing on my uncle’s American Legion baseball team, and I had to sign a waiver that I wasn’t going to play with Wall, I was going to play with them,” Baubles began. “I played the whole month of June with that team, and we got to the final tournament and someone found out [he was not supposed to be allowed on the team] and I was declared ineligible to play.  So I didn’t pick up a baseball after that. I went down to Florida on August 20-something, and on the first day of practice I threw the ball and tore my labrum.”

According to the John’s Hopkins Medical website, after proper surgery and rehabilitation treatments, an athlete who has suffered a labrum tear can be back to full strength at an average of nine months. Soon after his injury, Baubles was back home and doing just that.

However, even after taking all the right steps and following the correct medical protocol, he knew his career was over. But if there was one thing he never wanted to do, it was disappoint his father, and watching his son’s remarkable baseball career come to an end would be the ultimate hindrance. Baubles went back to Santa Fe at what he described as “70 percent” in pursuit of making his dad proud.

“My arm was done, I knew it,” Baubles described after going back to school after a year of surgery, rest and rehab. But he carried on.

“I blew it out again,” Baubles admitted. He was brought back home for a second trial of surgery and rehab. He admits that at this point, he was cynical about what was going on in his life.

“I was miserable,” Baubles said.  “I was bitter about baseball, bitter about what happened to me. I had to lie to my dad about my arm strength.”

 His shoulder was a construction site full of scar tissue and fading hope. But, as his dad said, it was just another hiccup in the big scheme of things. Baubles would be back on his feet in no time, stronger than before. Little did Baubles know, however, he had yet to face the biggest challenge of his life.

It was summer time, and the three Baubles boys were headed south to attend their cousin’s wedding. Being the Secretariat that he was, Baubles took the wheel of their Grand Am for the first stretch of their journey.

“We stopped around Washington, D.C.; I was tired,” Baubles explained.  “I saw a 5-Hour ENERGY drink. I looked at it and said, ‘this probably tastes terrible.’” He paused for a second. “And I passed it up.” 

The three of them climbed back into the car, this time Peter Sr. at the wheel, Baubles in the front seat, and Colin in the back. The sky grew dark on the night of June 6, 2008 as Colin slept lying down in the rear and Baubles was dozed on the passenger’s side with the seatback reclined. He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. 

According to the Virginia State Police Report, the Pontiac Grand Am collided with a tractor-trailer on the side of the road used for construction at 1:45 a.m. It was June 7 on Highway Interstate-95 in Stafford County, VA. Peter Sr. is assumed to have fallen asleep behind the wheel, losing control of the vehicle.  The car was destroyed. But that wasn’t even a fraction of the damage.

“I look over, and I saw my dad hunched over the steering wheel,” Baubles said.  “I assume he was already passed, but I can’t..I wasn’t...I didn’t have it about. And the only thing I hear is, ‘Hey buddy, are you okay?’ ‘Yeah, yeah I’m okay,’ And next thing I know I’m on the ground.  I couldn’t feel anything. They told me they were going to get me on a helicopter, and I’m horrible with motion sickness. I felt the helicopter take off, and me start to get queasy.  Then I was out.”

While Baubles was being airlifted off the site and to a hospital, his brother and father remained in the mangled automobile. Colin was violently thrust forward with the crash and shattered his forehead on the middle console between the two front seats and died instantaneously. His father, with not much room between himself and the steering wheel to begin with because of his size, remained alive, trapped in the pretzel-shaped Grand Am for a few minutes before passing due to bodily injuries.

Baubles remembers the pain he had in his back while being escorted by helicopter to Washington Medical Center where he was treated.  This pain was the result of copious amounts of blood piling up in his back due to a torn aorta. The aorta is the main artery in the body that pumps blood from the heart to, well, everywhere else. In layman’s terms, this guy is a miracle.

“I tore my aorta,” Baubles began when listing his medley of injuries due to the accident. “Broken ribs, collapsed lung, fractured orbital bone, a broken foot, blood clots traveled everywhere—in my lungs, my calves; everything. And I wound up with a G.I. bleed; I had an ulcer in my stomach.”

And if that wasn’t enough to prove he was a miracle, while operating on his two aorta surgeries and open-heart bypass, doctors realized they were treating a patient with Situs Inversus. Baubles was born with all of his organs placed inversely to where they normally should be. He has to go back to Washington every year to be examined, for he was the first of his kind at Washington Medical Center. 

Baubles spent 29 days in intensive care and one day on the floor at Washington Medical, days that consisted of surgery, re-runs of Everybody Loves Raymond, and a man’s worst enemy: a catheter tube that left him sore “downstairs” for a month.

He recalls his hospital bill amounting to around $1.5 million, and people back home raising money to help his family cover the costs. He also spent his 24th birthday in that hospital.

“And it was Father’s Day, I remember that,” Baubles said. His birthday that year, out of some kind of disgusting black magic, fell on Father’s Day.

After his hospital stint he returned home with his mother to rest and complete even more rehab. Baubles didn’t walk without any kind of assistance that year until December.

He is still living with his mom in Bayville, NJ until he finishes school and can become a gym teacher at Wall.

Having spent so much time with his father when he was a kid, Baubles finds the silver lining in the accident as his ability now to strengthen the relationship that he didn’t quite have with his mother during his childhood.

“I feel like I get to make up for lost time,” Baubles said. “She was always there to support me, but it wasn’t fair because the relationship wasn’t the same as the one I had with my dad. It was so one-sided. Now, I try to make as much time as possible to hang with my mom.”

When Baubles was back and fully functioning, he landed a job as an aide in the Lakewood school district assisting students that were severely handicapped. Although he was enjoying helping these children and felt rewarded at Lakewood, he knew that it could not provide for him as a career. So, he thought about careers in Wall, the place he spent the best years of his life in, that could make a difference for the better. Being the strong, clean-cut American that he was, his friends pointed him in one direction: Cop.

Although he was pursuing a career in the police force, the only real source of authority Baubles had in his life was his dad. Ever since his passing, he respects authority, but will be the first to question it. He recognized writing tickets and other technical protocol as necessary aspects of the job, but Baubles didn’t want to play the enforcer.  He wanted to make a real difference and have a positive impact on the community he loved his entire life.

“I didn’t want to be a hero and lock up the world,” Baubles expressed. “That wasn’t my objective. My objective was to be a big part of the community, help the best I could and make a career out of it.”

However, after only one year, his run at the Wall Police Force had come to an end. Baubles had gotten sick and was placed on leave from the force, so he returned to Lakewood and was assisting with coaching the high school football team when he felt healthy. It was while walking down a Lakewood hallway with one of his players when he had an episode.

He shifted his head from speaking with his player to look forward when a feeling of dizziness hit him. Baubles fell to the floor, convulsing and violently vomiting. He was having a seizure.

“They brought me to the hospital and again I had that feeling where I couldn’t open my eyes,” Baubles said. “I want to say that was around noon...Then when I finally came to it was around seven or eight o’clock at night, I got up and walked to the bathroom like nothing happened. That’s when I got on my medication.”

This episode, along with a few minor ones Baubles has had before and after it, are a result of the accident. He currently has a hemorrhage in his brain that is so deep no doctor can touch it. The only thing he can do is stick to his medication.

Something that’s even more amazing about Baubles is the absence of regret in his life. After what had happened to him, many people would simply shut down, hardening themselves toward the rest of this unfair world; but not him. He has no regrets.

He stresses that the significance his father put on the meaning of being a family left the time they spent together with no room for regrets. Baubles says he was lucky to have such an amazing dad, and now it’s his duty to take what he taught him, and pay it forward to the kids and community. Although his father and brother may be gone, and he misses them with everything he has, Baubles knows that the moments they shared together as a family were perfect.

“We stayed together in our little group, it was our own little dysfunctional group, but it worked,” Baubles said. “I constantly tell people all the time that it’s okay, I’m fine. It sucks, but I’m fine. There’s no remorse.  Nothing could have been better with our relationship.”

PHOTO TAKEN from app.com

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