DePaul Dean has a reason to smile

Lindsey Dean suffered a painful injury last year, but she's finally recovered. Scott Powers/ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO – Marlene Dean was ready to jump on the next flight out of Los Angeles to be with her daughter, Lindsey, in Chicago.

Lindsey’s jaw and chin had been shattered in four places and her lower gum had been torn open when a line drive smashed into the left side of her face during a DePaul softball practice last May. Surgery was required, and Marlene wanted to be there.

Lindsey wasn’t having it. She argued that the plane ticket was too expensive, and the trip wasn’t worth all the hassle. Marlene expected no less from her daughter. Lindsey was treating the damage to her face like she had treated every injury in her life – with indifference.

“The phone call we had was interesting,” Marlene said. “She was like, ‘Don’t fly out here. My roommates will drive me there. I’ll be fine.’”

Marlene discovered a few days later her daughter would be far from fine.

After Lindsey’s father, Geoff, put an end to the mother-daughter travel dispute, Marlene flew to Chicago to be with Lindsey. Marlene found her daughter to be in a slight discomfort due to her jaw being knocked loose, but it was manageable. Lindsey’s real pain still lay ahead.

Lindsey’s surgery lasted about an hour. While she was knocked out, she had a titanium plate inserted into her chin, she had stitches and screws placed into her gum and her mouth was wired shut.

Marlene was waiting for Lindsey when she returned to her room. In time, Lindsey awoke, and what Marlene saw she never expected.

“I’ve seen her virtually cry a handful times in her life,” Marlene said. “She woke up with tears coming down her face. I’m going to cry now. It was awful. She was lying there and with all kinds of medication, morphine. She was still under, and she said, ‘It hurts.’

“It was dreadful after the surgery. I was taken off guard by that. She can withstand all types of pain.”

This pain was too much for Lindsey, and the following three weeks wouldn’t get any better. The pain medication helped, but she never felt complete relief.

She couldn’t look at herself in a mirror either. She did it once, and it resulted in her not leaving the apartment for the next two weeks. With everything holding her face in place, she didn’t look like herself anymore.

“It was not pretty,” Dean said. “I was fine, and I was like, ‘I can do this.’ I looked in the mirror, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh.’

“I couldn’t do any physical activity outside of walking. I wasn’t getting much nutrition. I fed myself through a syringe in the back of my mouth. It was terrible. I lived on protein shakes and cream of chicken soup that I had to put in a blender just get it thin enough and mix it with water and whatever else I could blend.”

The physical pain was one problem, but there was also an emotional struggle that Dean was trying to deal with. Her DePaul teammates were playing in the NCAA tournament, and she wasn’t going to be able to be there. She had surgery on a Thursday, and DePaul was to play that Friday.

“That was the biggest thing I wasn’t happy about,” said Dean, a right-handed pitcher. “That was terrible. I watched it on Gametracker, but that’s not the same.”

DePaul’s season ended and her attention quickly turned to getting back to the team for her senior year. Dean returned to the doctor and had the wires removed. The nerves in her face slowly came back to life, and today her face is nearly 100 percent the same as it was pre-injury.

As for Dean's return to the field, that was slow. She hadn’t been active for nearly two months, and she had lost weight and muscle. She started with low doses of jogging and steadily added more cardio. She began eating normally again and got back into the weight room. She was feeling like her old self as the season approached.

Dean made her official comeback in DePaul’s fifth game of the season. She came in relief in the fourth inning of a 3-3 game against Ohio State and shut the door. She pitched five innings, allowing two hits and no earned runs and struck out five hitters to help DePaul pull out a win.

The rest of Dean's season has followed suit. She’s pitched as a starter and a reliever and compiled a 9-5 record with three saves. She has a 1.79 ERA and opponents have a .230 batting average against her. Offensively, she’s contributed four doubles, one triple, one home run and 19 RBIs for the Blue Demons, who are likely headed back to the NCAA tournament after a 37-12 regular season.

“She wants the ball right now,” DePaul coach Eugene Lenti said. “She’s one of those kids that’s really focused because she sees their limited opportunity to play college softball left.”

Dean's season hasn’t been perfect. Injuries have found her again. She is currently playing with a stress fracture in her ribs and torn cartilage in her wrist. She’s handled them with indifference, of course.

“I’m just a problem child,” said Dean, who also suffered a severe back injury her sophomore season. “It’s something I’m used to. I’m getting old I guess.”

None of it’s been enough to keep Dean from playing, and that’s what’s important to her. After going through all she did last year, she’s grateful every time she steps on the field this season.

“You know it can be taken away from you at any minute,” she said. “If that had missed somewhere else on my face, I’d be done. I couldn’t be playing anymore. I was very lucky. You definitely never take anything for granted.”

Marlene and Geoff were in Chicago last weekend to see Lindsey play her final home games. Dean pitched twice and allowed a total of three earned runs. But her statistics were insignificant. What mattered was the smile on her face.

“All we really wanted her was to be happy and have happy memories,” Marlene said. “We didn’t want her only memories to be of the injuries. The other day, she struck someone out, and she threw three change-ups in a row. She couldn’t help herself. She just grinned. It wasn’t mean-spirited. She was just so happy.

“It goes back to high school where she was so happy. She just wanted the ball. Lindsey just wanted the ball. You get teary-eyed watching her. She’s happy; she’s healthy; and she’s got the ball.”