Bham Family Stories: Meet Waylon Marshall
Six-year-old Waylon Marshall doesn’t allow a traumatic hand injury to hold him back.
By Savannah Koplon
Most children have dreams of what they want to be when they grow up: a doctor, a teacher, a chef. For Waylon Marshall, age 6, being a baseball player has long been a goal.
That dream was shifted in November 2022 when he was in a car accident with his father and sister. In the midst of the crash, Waylon’s left hand got stuck. What happened next is still unknown to first responders and his treating physicians, but Waylon’s pinky, ring, and middle fingers severed on impact, with only two fingers recovered at the scene.
Waylon was rushed to the emergency department at Children’s of Alabama, where he was met by University of Alabama at Birmingham orthopedic hand surgeon Karlee Lau Loftin, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. Immediately prepped and sent into surgery lasting more than 12 hours, Dr. Loftin and the team worked diligently to provide vascular function back to his hand while also attempting to reattach his pulled fingers.
“The trauma to his hand was so significant and the force by which the fingers were removed was so great that we discovered successful reattachment of his fingers was not viable; being able to save function of his remaining two fingers and his hand was critical,” Dr. Loftin explains. “The complexity involved in repairing the trauma in a replantation is often microscopic, as we saw in Waylon’s case, but operating on a patient of his size increases that challenge.”
While she waited to hear status updates on her child, Waylon’s mother, Dena Marshall, could not help but think about what this accident would mean for her son’s life.
“You just wonder about all the ways this would impact and shape his life and, of course, how he would respond to this traumatic event—he is so young,” Dena says. “And, naturally, we thought about how this would impact his passions like his love of playing baseball. He was left-handed, and that injury was certain to impact his ability to throw and catch. We just didn’t know what this all would mean and how he would react.”
When she asked his care team when—or if—he could return to sports, Dena was met with many shared responses about the need for healing, time, and patience. What happened next, no one predicted.
Hitting Recovery Out of the Park
Within days, both Dr. Loftin and Dena were stunned by Waylon’s progress and resilience. As he took his injury in stride and with a maturity not found in most children, both acknowledged his fighter spirit and determination to live a fulfilled life that would not be impacted by this accident.
“I have been blown away by how Waylon has taken responsibility at such a young age for his own life. He has not pretended that this wasn’t happening to him but rather made up his mind that this injury would not limit him,” Dr. Loftin says. “He set goals in his mind and has worked hard to meet them.”
In just a few months’ time, Waylon’s forward-facing mindset was evident and in motion: He learned to catch with his new left hand and throw with his right—the opposite of how he played prior to his accident—and rivaled his tenacity on the field with his determination at regular hand therapy appointments.
“Waylon is just such a cool patient—he’s our little daredevil. He is so motivated and fiercely independent, and the entire clinic lights up when he walks in,” says Christy Mann, OTR/L, CHT, Waylon’s hand therapist. “He is so focused on using that hand and has not once ever neglected it. His fingers were super sensitive when we began, but we do specific exercises that help with texture exposure so that, when he puts his hand in the baseball glove, he has positive and normal sensations.”
Dr. Loftin notes that part of Waylon’s medical success is due in part to being cared for at a Level I trauma center like UAB’s. The extent of his injuries was so extensive and specific that being cared for at a place like UAB made a critical difference.
“At UAB, we specialize in replantation and microvascular surgery just like Waylon had, and we have board-certified hand surgeons who do this day in and day out,” Dr. Loftin says. “It’s not a service that you could find everywhere in Alabama, so I feel fortunate that Waylon made it to us here at UAB for care and in a time frame that allowed us to help him.”
A Successful Future on Deck
In the nearly 10 months since the life-altering accident Waylon experienced, he has not only made it back to the baseball field but has made his all-star team and is playing ball without any hesitation.
“When we first entered the park after his recovery, you just wouldn’t believe what kid you were looking at,” Dena says. “Parents were in awe, kids were clapping, and we were, too. He is really a miracle.”
Recently, Waylon experienced another park day partnership with the Birmingham Barons, Birmingham’s minor league baseball team, and Double-A Affiliate of the Chicago White Sox. He received the night of his life at the ballpark, celebrating his recovery by signing a one-day contract with the team, attending batting practice, throwing out the first pitch, and calling some of the game from the press box.
Hitting home runs and catching and throwing just as he did—Waylon’s story is a testament to his desire to reach his goal of one day becoming a baseball player. While that dream holds strong still, Dena noted one other goal Waylon has his sights on after his experiences with UAB and Dr. Loftin: becoming a surgeon.