SAN DIEGO — A club water polo player and sophomore at Patrick Henry High School is in the hospital as doctors try to save her hand.
Fifteen-year-old Tessa Eaton is known for her infectious personality, in and out of the pool.
“She walks onto the pool deck with a big smile and a high five or a skip to her step, and she’s so positive and upbeat,” Charlie Equels, the head water polo coach at Patrick Henry High School, said. “To look out there and not see her purple or pink hair or her bubbly smile is going to be a constant change, it’s going to be hard to get used to.”
Tessa was a passenger in a vehicle, on her way to practice for her club water polo team, The San Diego Shores, when she was involved in a rollover crash Oct. 24. Her hand was crushed and she was rushed to the hospital, where she has been since the crash.
According to close family friend who has been helping facilitate financial efforts, Susan Furtak, Tessa had her fourth surgery Friday.
She explained that the fear after the accident was doctors were concerned they would have to amputate her hand. Now, they are beginning to detect blood flow and are working to try to save her hand.
“She was rushed to the hospital. Her right hand, her dominant hand, was severely crushed and at the time, doctors were concerned that they were going to have amputate,” Furtak said. “She’s working with an occupational therapist to learn how to write with her left hand and she’s doing the best she can.”
According to Tessa’s coaches, water polo is a family affair for the Eaton family. Tessa’s dad, cousins, uncle and brother have been involved in the sport for decades.
“Tessa is super enthusiastic about water polo, it’s a family sport for her, she’s just a bright spot at practice,” Doug Peabody, founder and president of San Diego Shores Water Polo Club said.
Tessa was supposed to begin her sophomore season of water polo at her high school next week.
“She was one of the future athletes in our program, she came in as a strong freshman and she’s somebody that was going to be an impactful player in this year’s dynamics of our makeup,” Equels said.
Her teammates said her presence has been incredibly missed, and practice hasn’t been the same since she’s been in the hospital.
“Tessa was always one of the girls that brings the most energy to practice, and she would always be communicating with everybody and always laughing so it feels like there’s something here without here,” Tessa’s teammate Mackenzie Royal said.
Several teammates and friends have visited Tessa in the hospital as she undergoes surgeries and fights to keep her hand.
“She’s really fierce,” Tessa’s teammate Malaea Benedicto said. “She’s had a really positive attitude, she’s been super strong about the whole situation.”
Her coaches said this is a difficult situation to experience, but believe Tessa’s personality will shine through this time.
“Her dynamic as a person is so much more important than anything she has and to lose a hand is taking away from her sport in water polo and making a challenge in her life but her personality is something that is unimaginable,” Equels said.
He said he has been in contact with Tessa while she’s in the hospital, and said she told him that even thought she likely won’t be able to play water polo, she wants to be part of the team in some capacity and plans to be the manager for the girls team this season.
“We’re hoping for a miracle that her hand will heal and she’ll be able to get back in the water,” Furtak said.
“It’s terrible and it’s heartbreaking and heart wrenching and it makes you think about how blessed we are on a daily basis that a lot of us take for granted, and it makes you really think about like counting your blessings and understanding that not everyone’s able to do it, every single day. And in Tessa’s case, she’s missing it really badly and she wants to know if she’s ever going to be able to do it again,” Peabody added.
The community has come together to support and help the Eaton family, who has been through several medical emergencies in the last few years that have depleted their savings and kids’ college funds, according to Furtak.
“The Eaton family has been through a lot over the last two and a half years. Tessa’s father just overcame stage 4 cancer and her older sister had to undergo two spine surgeries, and so they’ve just financially been through a lot,” Furtak said. “If there was a family that could handle this, it’s the Eaton family.”
“Shores is a pretty tightknit community,” Peabody said.