Windsor player back on baseball diamond after snowmobile crash


Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-08-2023 8:59 PM

WINDSOR — Mike Lopez swears it doesn’t hurt him to run, no matter how uncomfortable it may look.

Considering Lopez was learning how to walk again at this time last year, running without pain is remarkable progress – and so is suiting up for baseball.

A sophomore at Windsor High, Lopez was out with three of his friends in Brownsville on Jan. 16, 2022. The group attached a sled to the back of a snowmobile in an open snow-covered field, and while the rest of the group had experience riding a snowmobile, that fateful day was Lopez’s first time on one.

He ended up launching himself and the snowmobile across a brook, landing hard on the other side. The impact of the crash broke Lopez’s pelvis and both his femurs, with the bone sticking through his skin in the left thigh.

After a year-plus of rehab and physical therapy, Lopez made his varsity baseball debut on April 22 as a late-inning substitute at first base against Burr & Burton, and played his first full game with the junior varsity team last Friday against Woodstock.

“Everyone understands my limits. They don’t ever try to push me out of my limits,” Lopez said. “They can tell when I get tired or I’m in pain. I always get teased because I waddle, and I go along with it.”

Michael Spackman, a firefighter who lives down the road from the field where Lopez crashed, quickly arrived at the scene. Lopez’s mother, Melissa Lopez-Jackson, was running an errand in West Lebanon when she got a call from Spackman on one of Lopez’s friends’ phones, and she rushed to the scene as well.

Lopez, unconscious throughout, was airlifted via helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center – Spackman said he likely would not have survived a ride there in an ambulance.

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“He was messed up bad. We thought we were gonna lose him more than once right there in the field,” said Spackman, who was also one of the umpires at the Windsor-Woodstock JV game. “He lost his life twice. We brought him back right there in the field once, and then in the helicopter before it took off, they lost him again, and then they got him stabilized.”

After being discharged, Lopez’s next stop was Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, but after just a day and a half there, he began vomiting nonstop. Spaulding does not provide critical care, so Lopez was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where the doctors found that his pancreas had been split in half, causing bile to leak into his abdomen.

As his pancreas began to heal, Lopez had stents inserted at Mass General to bridge the two portions together. The stents were exchanged every three months until the pancreas healed completely.

“He went through every test humanly possible. So much radiation, CAT scans, MRIs,” Lopez-Jackson said. “The only solution was just putting tubes to drain the liquid out into bags. At one point, he had six draining tubes coming out of his abdomen. He lost 50 pounds in a week and a half or two weeks, because he couldn’t eat.”

Lopez remained at Mass General from late January until early March 2022, during which time Lopez-Jackson was posting daily updates on her son’s status on Facebook. He then returned to Spaulding for two weeks to begin physical therapy, which he continued back at Dartmouth-Hitchcock once he came back home.

In order to stay on top of his schoolwork, Lopez met virtually for an hour each day with a tutor, when he was feeling up to it, and spent another hour catching up on homework. He spent a month in a wheelchair as he rehabbed at Spaulding – he had lost two centimeters of bone and received a bone graft on his left femur, and needed to avoid putting too much weight on his right leg while the left healed. After coming out of the wheelchair, Lopez walked with crutches until the fall.

“I was really weak, and it would hurt to sit in the wheelchair because I was just bones,” Lopez said. “After I got to Spaulding, they wanted me to get up on crutches quickly. I was scared to start crutches; I thought I was going to topple over, but my physical therapists were really good to me. After a week of just being on crutches, they told me I had to do stairs, and stairs are a scary thing with crutches.”

Lopez-Jackson stayed at Mass General throughout Mike’s time there, doing her work as Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s surgical coordinator from his hospital room. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Lopez’s visitors were limited, but his girlfriend, Amber Simonds, a junior at Windsor who plays field hockey, basketball and softball, made the trip to Boston a few times to see him.

Prior to the accident, Lopez played basketball and baseball, but missed this past basketball season because he has not yet been cleared for contact. He still attended every game and practice, helping out with logistics and operations, and began participating in non-contact practices in February.

Lopez is still limited in baseball – he has been told not to slide and requires a pinch-runner any time he reaches base. Previously a first baseman and third baseman, Lopez is now playing exclusively first due to the relatively little mobility required for that position.

“He’s limited with his legs. (But) everything else – he’s got great hands, he’s got great hand-eye coordination, he can do everything,” varsity baseball coach Jamie Richardson said. “Each day he’s getting a little bit more mobile, and each day he’s getting a little bit more comfortable with the game with his limitations. He’s got a little hitch, but he says it doesn’t hurt. We’re willing to work with whatever he’s got. I haven’t seen him have a bad day since our season started.”

Lopez may not see the field much this spring, at least at the varsity level, but with two years of high school sports still ahead of him, there should be chances aplenty for him to make an impact. He and his mother will go back to Boston on May 16 to check on how his bone is healing, and once it heals completely, Lopez will be cleared for contact. He is hopeful about practicing with the basketball team over the summer, although running remains a struggle.

Both Lopez and his mother said he has matured immensely since the accident and has become much more measured and methodical in what he does. He has also come to understand the importance of gratitude – he said Lopez-Jackson reminds him often that he did not hug her or say good-bye to her before leaving the house on the day of the accident.

“I’m a 16-year-old in the body of a 60-year-old,” Lopez said. “I can’t move as fast. I can’t stand for long periods of time. I know my limits much better now. I still try to push them, but I don’t try to break them anymore.”

Benjamin Rosenberg can be reached at or 603-727-3302.